Informational Interview 101: Where to Begin and How to Shine

An informational interview is a great tool for students and recent grads to use. Informationals allow you to connect with an organization, learn if a certain position is right for you, and even set yourself up as a future job candidate. Making this type of meeting with the company of your dreams happen may seem little daunting, and that is why we had a panel of professionals answer some of your most puzzling questions at Find & Follow Your Passion at Eugene Lang The New School for Liberal Arts, during a session called Coffee or Lunch: The Art of the Informational Interview.

Who should I contact for an informational interview?

First ask yourself what you are trying to gain. If you are looking for a mentor in the industry, you may want to contact an assistant or coordinator level person at the company. If you plan on actively seeking a job at the company in the near future, or you have questions about which department or position in the company would be a good fit for you, someone from human resources might be better.

How do I ask for an informational interview?

Even if you don’t know the person, you can communicate your interest about the person’s position or industry. LinkedIn is the perfect avenue to connect with people. Carolyn Ernst, Manager of Creative Recruitment at Bloomingdale’s, advises to leverage people or things you have in common with the person you are trying to contact. If you have a mutual connection on LinkedIn, have that connection make an introduction via email. When reaching out to people, be genuine, short and sweet, and say something of value. Provide details about why you want to work at the company and what department you’re curious about.Bayla Gottesman, Training/HR Coordinator at Ruder Finn, Inc., recommends that if you’re reaching out to someone in HR, attach a resume.

What if the person I contacted doesn’t respond?

It is easy to be discouraged if you don’t get a response, but be appropriately persistent. Acknowledge that urgent emails do come up, and the person you are trying to contact may have honestly forgotten. Wait a couple of weeks, and follow up suggesting alternatives such as meeting for a shorter amount of time or even a quick phone call. If you still don’t get a response after a few follow ups, then it’s okay to move on. There are plenty of other companies out there who will be more than willing to engage with you, urged John Santucci, Segment Producer at ABC News.

How do I prepare for an informational interview?

The nature of the interview will depend on the role of the person you are meeting with. If you’re speaking to a recruiter, it is safe to assume he or she will be evaluating you as a possible candidate, even though it’s not a formal job interview. Treat it as an interview, and bring a resume and portfolio. Have a list of questions ready about job responsibilities or how your particular skill set aligns with different areas of the company. And don’t ask questions that you could’ve easily found the answers to online.

From a different perspective, when meeting with an employee from another department, acknowledge that he or she is not a recruiter. Bring a resume, but don’t pull it out immediately. The primary goal from this conversation is to make a professional connection, build your network, practice interviewing skills, and see if you are interested in working in the industry.  Nicole Samartino, Coordinator at Saturday Night Life, highlighted that informationals can be the perfect way to set up a mentorship. If you are actively seeking a job and feel like the interview went very well, ask the person you met with if they can connect you with someone from the HR department.

How do I stay in touch after the informational interview?

It is extremely important to follow up after an informational interview since you want to maintain a relationship with the person. Maria Spano, Managing Editor at Crown Publishing Group at Penguin Random House, emphasized capitalizing on any personal interests that you share, like mentioning that you picked up new book by your shared favorite author that you discussed in the interview. Another easy way to reach out is by sharing your recent projects. Send a quick email telling the person that you started a great internship and you think it will help you develop certain skills that you discussed in your interview. John gave a great tip for a way stay connected and recommended setting up a Google alert for the person and sending an email to congratulate him or her when something exciting happens.

Do you have any tips about informational interviews? Share them in the comments below.

About the Author

Julia is a senior public relations student at Hofstra University, where she serves as the managing editor of the yearbook. Follow her on Twitter @JuliaChappell and feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn.

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