Whether you call it an exploratory interview, an informational interview, or a networking chat, this type of meeting is a great opportunity. It enables you to connect with others, learn about their roles, and gain career guidance. It may even prove fruitful in helping you switch roles or land a job!
I’ve been on both sides of the informational interview table, and the conversations are always enjoyable. Having both perspectives has given me insight into how to truly take advantage of these conversations and make a positive impression.
Here are my learnings on how to ace your informational interview, every time.
Do your homework
To make the most of your conversation, prepare ahead of time. This involves a few components: learning about your interviewee, getting clear on your objective, and coming up with a list of questions.
Learning about your interviewee
If someone introduced or referred you to the person you’ll be meeting with, speak with them to get a sense for the interviewee’s background, experience, and path. You can also use tools like LinkedIn to better understand what their education and career trajectory look like.
Getting clear on your objective
What do you want to get out of the conversation? Is it an understanding of an industry? Greater insight into a company’s culture? Advice on breaking into a specific team or department?
This will not only help in brainstorming questions, but will help you set the context and prioritize where to focus the bulk of your time.
Coming up with a list of questions
With your objective in mind, brainstorm a list of questions you’d like to ask. Focus on open-ended questions, and only ask questions you couldn’t get the answers to online. (For example, don’t ask what school they went to if you’re already connected on LinkedIn). The more thoughtful the questions, the better the dialogue and the better the impression you’ll leave. And if you’re stumped, LiveCareer has a great list here!
Then, prioritize your questions so that you can ensure the most critical ones get answered.
Next, decide whether you have any follow-up asks of your interviewee. Will you ask them to connect you with anyone else? Would you like to know if you can reach out in the future if additional questions arise? Thinking this through will prevent you from being frazzled at the end of the meeting as you wrap up.
Lastly, you may wish to send your context and/or questions to your interviewee ahead of time so that they can prepare too, or simply know what to expect.
Manage the conversation and time
Keep the context to a minimum (a few minutes or so is good), and do a time check as the meeting progresses. Being respectful of your interviewee’s time is key, and in most cases, they’ll let you know if they have a few extra minutes if you’re in the middle of a discussion that warrants more time.
This last component is something many people miss, which is a real shame!
Send a thank you note within 48 hours of the conversation (within 24 hours is best!) Also mention a few things that were particularly insightful or actionable.
Flag any follow-ups that came up, and consider offering to help them in the future. For example, you can offer to introduce them to someone in your network or act as a sounding board if they’re looking for feedback on anything.
With those steps in hand, you’re set to have a great exploratory interview, ripe with learning. You can also check out my post on effective meeting facilitation for more ideas on how to make the interview go well!
Leave me a comment below and let me know what your best tips are for conducting a fruitful networking chat. Happy interviewing!
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