The Power of an Informational Interview


by Rachel Vilsack

A few weeks ago, I got an e-mail request for an informational interview from an individual who found my name, website, and Twitter account online. This person was interested in the field of workforce and economic development and asked to set up a meeting with me to discuss my career. Now, as someone who really likes what I do, I was happy to oblige!

 

If you’ve never participated in an information interview, it is a great way to see a job from the inside and build an important relationship with a company or organization. While the purpose is not to ask for a job, it does help you expand your network and keep up-to-date on information important to that career field or industry. But jobs are possible.

 

After I finished my informational interview, I offered to forward a list of contacts — including a list of professional organizations in my field — to the interviewer. And if I see a job opening or internship opportunity, I will probably forward those along too. What stood out to me is that this individual came prepared. She had done research about me and the organization I worked for, and she came with great questions. She even sent me a hand-written thank-you note.

 

So, think about who you know — or who you want to know — and give it a try. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

 

  1. If you request an informational interview by e-mail, you might want to indicate that you will follow up by telephone in a few days if you do not hear back from the person. Sometimes e-mails get misplaced (like in spam folders) or aren’t read immediately if the address is unfamiliar. A telephone follow-up means you won’t have to worry if the person got your e-mail.
     
  2. Be prepared to talk about yourself. I often want to know about the interviewer’s previous work experience, their skills, or education. A resume is fine too. Asking questions just helps me understand more about your background.
     
  3. Feel free to ask for suggestions on other people or organizations to talk to for more information. Also ask for any professional organizations or associations in the field that might be good resources.
     
  4. Remember to respect the person’s time. An information interview should last about 30 minutes.
     
  5. Follow up with a thank-you e-mail or handwritten note. This not only shows your appreciation, but it makes you stand out. I’ve had informational interviews where the interviewer never followed up with a thank you. I’m less likely to remember them or send them a job lead.

 

Rachel Vilsack (Rachel.Vilsack@state.mn.us) is a regional labor market analyst at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

 

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