Preparing for an informational interview

Preparing for an Informational Interview: 15 Tips for Remote Workers

When properly conducted, informational interviews can be an invaluable tool in a remote job search. However, there are a few areas where you can easily make a wrong turn and sabotage your efforts. In this article, you will learn effective strategies for preparing for a successful informational interview.

Preparing for an Informational Interview: 15 Tips for Remote Workers

An informational interview is a business-like meeting with a professional who works in your desired job or career field. During this meeting, you ask questions and gain insights into their position and background, helping you to determine if it may also be a smart career choice for you.

These meetings are not job interviews, but frequently, the relationships created can lead to additional contacts or work opportunities. This is just one of the reasons why it’s important to put some thought and planning into preparing for an informational interview.

There are five basic steps to building an effective informational interview plan:

  1. Identify the perfect interviewees. Your first step is to identify a brief list of potential interviewees. If you’re looking for a remote position, you may have a few more options to choose from, as remote workers are not limited by geography. You can request interviews with individuals anywhere in the world.
  2. Do your research. Before you contact an interview prospect, make sure to conduct thorough research. This investigation should include information about the individual, their position, company, and industry. LinkedIn is a great resource to use since you can conduct research on not only your prospects, but also their backgrounds, their current roles, and their companies.
  3. Reach out and schedule. At this point, it’s time to initiate contact with your interview prospect(s) and request a meeting. Typically, initial contact can be made via telephone or email. LinkedIn is also a great tool to use for this step in the process. It’s quite common to network this way and your prospect can decide if they want to agree to your connection invitation and request for an informational interview. When you reach out, make sure they understand that the intention of the interview is just to learn from them, and if you email, don’t include your resume.
  4. Conduct the interview. The interview should be conducted in a business-like manner and should be fairly short, about 15-30 minutes long. The meeting can be conducted in person, over the phone, or using a video call application.
  5. Follow-up. Don’t forget that this is just the beginning of a wonderful relationship! Reach out soon after the interview to let them know how much you appreciate their time. Stay in contact and record the details of conversations so you can refer back when necessary.

To help you put your best foot forward and optimize positive outcomes, we’ve broken down these steps into specific tips. These will help you stand out to potential mentors or employers and enable you to gather the most information possible to inform your career choices.

Tip 1. Choose interviewees who occupy positions that are along your potential career path.

As you begin preparing for your informational interviews, remember to get in touch with individuals at a variety of levels along your potential career path, including those holding entry, mid, and executive-level positions. Your only job-type requirement is that the person’s role fits along your envisioned career trajectory. For example, if you are interested in a career in accounting, you may set up informational interviews with an accounting clerk, an accounting manager, and a chief financial officer.

Tip 2. Search for individuals to interview who work in your desired or preferred industries.

Many similar positions can be found in a variety of different industries. For example, a public relations professional may work at an agency, for a nonprofit, at a Fortune 500 company, with a sports team, or for an individual. In this instance, narrowing down your possible industry choices can help to identify individuals you want to interview and give you insights into the inner workings of your chosen industry.

Tip 3. Select informational interview prospects who are employed with a company or organization that interests you.

It’s helpful to interview individuals in companies you like in order to confirm that the organizational structure and company culture are a good fit for your talents and aptitudes. This is an important step to get your foot in the door if your target company is prestigious and difficult to find work at such as Microsoft, the FBI, or the United Nations.

Tip 4. Identify as many interviewees as possible.

Don’t be afraid to ask! Most professionals are happy to sit for a brief interview. While there is no ideal of number interviews to complete, you might want to continue scheduling them as long as you are looking for a position. Generally speaking, it’s good to have at least 10–20 interview possibilities identified. Two reasons support this strategy:

  1. You may have to strike quite a few off your list if they are away, do not want to participate, change jobs, or aren’t available for various other reasons.
  2. The more people you interview, the more accurate your knowledge will become. Each interview will reveal information from a unique set of circumstances and only additional interviews will help you build a complete picture.

Tip 5. Don’t skimp on the research. 

Research is an essential step in preparing for an informational interview. The research you conduct will inform your well-written request for interviews as well as the interview questions you decide to ask each individual. Since you will have very little time or screen space to make a positive impression, it’s important to come across as knowledgeable and engaged.

One way to ensure you come across this way and gather the most useful information from your interviews is to ask very targeted questions. Targeted questions are the result of research. These are questions you develop once you know specific information about the person, their background, and what they’re currently doing in their career.

Tip 6. Before you reach out to interview prospects, develop a short script.

In your script, explain the purpose of your communication and a little about your background. You can use this in an email, letter, or phone call to introduce yourself and make your request. An example of a sample script could be: “I’m doing some research on roles in XX as I’m currently completing my degree in XX and looking to make a career change. Would you be willing to set up a time to meet with me so I could ask you a couple of quick questions about your work and what you enjoy most?”

If you are contacting your prospect by telephone, practice the script in advance until you feel comfortable. This script is useful for a couple of reasons. First, it will improve your confidence when communicating with your prospects. Second, it will prevent you from making mistakes or forgetting to include important information.

Tip 7. When you initiate contact, give your interview prospect scheduling options. 

Provide two or three options for interview days and times to choose from or request they provide an alternative. This encourages a specific response to your request and will save both of you the time required to go back and forth with possible dates.

Tip 8. Plan the informational interview in a place and at a time that is convenient for your interviewee.

The last thing you want to do is inconvenience an individual kind enough to sit for an interview. If the meeting is in person, go to their office or the coffee shop downstairs. If the meeting is by phone or video call, make sure the times you suggest will work for them. Make sure you consider what time zone they are in and the range of their regular work hours.

Tip 9. Be professional in all aspects.

Although this is not a formal job interview, it should be treated as if it could be. (If you play your cards right, it’s possible it could turn into something that leads to a job.)  Make sure to be prompt, and dress, write, and/or speak in a business-like manner.

In order to appear professional in-person or online, remember these pointers when you’re preparing for an informational interview:

  • Proofread anything written and practice anything you want to say ahead of time in order to avoid mistakes and help build up your confidence.
  • If you are having an in-person or video-call interview, be sure to dress in business-appropriate attire. This will, of course, vary by job and industry, so make sure you know the current conventions.
  • If you are conducting a video call, make sure to double-check the technology and arrange your backdrop for effect. There is nothing more unprofessional than a technology glitch or a backdrop of shot glasses on your counter.

Tip 10. Keep the meeting as short as possible.

An informational interview should take no more than 30 minutes unless there is an agreement to make it longer. A professional’s goodwill will be tested if you take up too much of their time without a good reason. If you find the meeting taking longer than you had scheduled, make sure to stop the interview and indicate your willingness to cut it short out of respect for their time. You can also suggest an alternate time to finish the interview.

Tip 11. Prepare your questions in advance and prioritize in order of importance.

Before you ask your questions, offer your interviewee a brief synopsis of where you are now, including your background, what you’re doing now, what you’re interested in getting advice on, and why you’re excited to learn from them.

It is very possible that you will run out of time before you ask all of the questions wanted. Make sure that you are well prepared with a list of the questions you want to ask. As you create your list, place the most important questions first. This will keep you on track during the meeting and guarantee that you will receive answers to the questions you feel are most critical.

Some sample questions might include:

  • What is the focus of your role?
  • What does a typical week look like for you?
  • What is your favorite and least favorite part of your job?
  • What do you wish someone would have told you before you got into this industry and position?
  • How did you get where you are today?
  • Did your career path move faster or slower than you expected? How so?
  • Based on my background, how could I improve my areas of weakness?
  • What should I do to gain the right skills?

Tip 12. Take notes.

During the interview, it is okay to take brief notes as long as you are not interfering too much with the flow of the conversation. Following the meeting, take some time to flesh out your notes with additional details and insights. It may seem like you will never forget those gems of advice. Realistically, you probably will, so write them down.

Tip 13. Ask for other information interview suggestions.

There is no better source of new contacts than your current interviewee. Ask them who they would suggest you talk to next, especially if you have identified new areas of interest or expertise that you would like to explore. A personal introduction is worth its weight in gold and will smooth the way to developing productive new relationships.

Tip 14. Send a thank you letter.

Always remember to send a quick thank you note following your meeting. Thank them for their time, reiterate your most important takeaway, and request to stay in contact. This is also a good time to include a link to an article or offer an introduction to someone that you think your new contact may be interested in or find valuable.

Your letter can be either a physical letter or an email. However, something handwritten certainly stands out in a digital culture where some people receive hundreds of emails each day. Consider purchasing a set of blank cards at the store as you are preparing for your informational interview. Label and stamp them ahead of time, so you can simply drop them in the mail after writing your note.

Tip 15. Last, but not least, stay in touch.

This is only the beginning! Make sure to keep in contact through brief calls, emails, or texts, depending on how your contact prefers to get information. It’s up to you to cultivate the relationships you begin during your informational interviews and develop your professional network. You will never regret the time spent as the relationships you develop through informational interviews have the potential to carry you throughout your career, connecting you to extraordinary people and opportunities.

Do you have additional informational interview advice for remote jobseekersConnect with Virtual Vocations on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to tell us. We’d love to hear from you!

iStock Photo Credit: SDI Productions

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