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The Informational Interview: Job Search Strategies for Recent Grads

By Lea McLeod (2612 words)
Posted in Career Change, Job Search on June 11, 2013

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By Lea McLeod, M.A. Founder & CEO, Degrees of Transition

One of the most essential skills that make you a successful student is even more essential once you hit the job search process: Conducting Research.  Before any application or resume is sent out, research is the most important thing any recent grad can do. But by the time graduation comes along, college graduates are usually chomping at the bit to get out there and get that first job, jumping right into the job search process by getting on line and start filling out forms.  There is a more productive process to consider and it includes conducting research via the Informational Interview.


Informational interviews are not job interviews. They are investigative opportunities for you to derive information about a job, company, industry, career space, or person.


When I’m coaching a recent grad job search client, we spend a lot of time sussing out the strategy, investigating jobs, organizations and people, and really digging into deep research-BEFORE we ever fill out an application or send out a resume. You should think of it as going on a big trip. You’d surely spend time determining what cities you want to go to, what sites you want to see while you’re there, and what the lay of the land is.


The same is true of your job search.


There are 3 benefits of conducting good research:

  1. You can build a strong job search plan based on what you see happening in the market.

  2. You’ll learn a lot about the possible fields you want to go into, jobs that appear desirable, the organizations you will target as potential employers, and the people you’ll want to connect with.

  3. You’ll develop the knowledge and facts that enable much more focused, and productive conversations, throughout your job search. Whether with potential employers, networking contacts, or in Informational Interviews, you’ll show up looking smart, informed, and self-managing.


Let’s delve deeper into the Informational Interview so you can make it a core part of your job search strategy.


The Informational Interview


Informational interviews are not job interviews. They are investigative opportunities for you to derive information about a job, company, industry, career space, or person.


You lead them as the interviewer. The purpose is to help you garner information and exposure to support your job search strategy.


When I talk to people who give their time to grads, here’s what I hear: 80% of the time they don’t show up prepared, and, they somehow expect a job to be handed to them.


Don’t be that guy.


Informational interviews require the need for skills that maybe you didn't spend a lot of time on in college. So use these tips for having well managed, productive and professional informational interviews.


8 Tips for Conducting Informational Interviews


1. Find The Right People

Informational interview candidates are those that work in industries, organizations, or roles that would be interesting for you to know more about in your job search.


You might know them already (bonus!) or you might need to be introduced to them by someone you know already.


In some cases, you may want to cold call them and see if they will have a conversation with you.


Five places you can find you target interviewees:

  1. Researching them within your own network

  2. LinkedIn searches

  3. Facebook

  4. Through researching and studying media articles on line

  5. Referrals from friends, family and colleagues


2. Request Their Time

Asking for someone’s time is akin to requesting the most precious resource they have. Your invitation/request needs to be professional, concise, and specific.


It may not be a job interview, but you should approach it as if it were one. Here’s an example request:


Hi Bill,


I’m Chelsea Market and I met you recently at Megan Trey’s wedding. I’m just about to graduate with a degree in Marketing.


When we spoke at the wedding, you mentioned you’d be open to discussing the PR/Advertising business in Buffalo with me.


If you would be available for a 20-minute conversation in the next couple of weeks, I would appreciate being able to spend time with you.


Specifically, I’m interested in discussing these points:

  1. I’d like to get your perspective on the 3 agencies in the area I’m considering as target employers, and what you see as the competitive advantage for each.

  2. Your career: What were the best and worst moves you made? What would you do differently if you could do it over?

  3. When you hire new graduates or interns, what are the 3 key expectations you have of them, and where do you see most graduates falling short?


I’ll call your office on Wednesday morning to see if we might set up a time to meet.


Again, thank you for your kind offer.


Warm regards,

(Later in this article we’ll address how to identify the topics you want to talk about.)


What’s important about this kind of invitation?

  1. It’s respectful to the recipient.

  2. It gives context for how they met and follows up to that offer Bill made.

  3. It’s SPECIFIC. It provides specific questions the interviewer would like to cover. This presents the writer professionally and with a game plan. You’re much more likely to get a “yes” when you bring specificity to these conversation requests.


3. Reconfirm

Call the person back when you committed, and work with them or their assistant to set up a meeting time.


Once you have the meeting time confirmed, send a calendar appointment to them so that you both have it on your calendar. Include your phone number in the calendar appointment.


Depending on the date, reconfirm the meeting one or two days prior. This keeps you proactive and on top of the situation, should anything change.


If you’ve made the appointment with a lot of lead-time, you may also want to reconfirm a week or so prior. You could also re-attach your initial invitation to remind them of the topics.


Use a quick note to reconfirm:


Hi Bill,


I’m writing to reconfirm our meeting for Thursday at 11 am. I’ll see you at your office on 123 Main Street, Suite 123 in Buffalo at 11 am.


Don’t hesitate to call if anything changes. My contact information is below.


I look forward to meeting with you then.




What this does:

  • It puts you into the role of meeting leader and facilitator, which you are.

  • It ensures you are both on track for the meeting.

  • It makes you look super professional.


4. Research

One PR exec said he was amazed at how unprepared many young professionals were for informational interviews. He said it was like they sat there waiting for him to “spoon feed them information.”


They bring no questions, demonstrate no curiosity, and have done no research. One student asked who his big PR clients were; information that was easily found on the exec’s website!


This is a chance to leave a memorable impression and be introduced to other professionals. Bring your “A” game. To do that, you need to do your homework and show up prepared.


What to research?

  • The industry, what’s going on in that space? Who are the big players, and the not so big? What is the customer niche? What’s the latest news/developments?

  • The organization: What are their big wins, issues, competition, updates. What about the culture, the people, awards, and recognition. Check press postings, Google, and their web site for info.

  • Social media: Check Facebook page, LinkedIn page, and any news on Twitter you can bring into your conversation.

  • The person: What has his/her career path been? What is the title/role they are in? What are their background, education, and contributions? What special interests, volunteer work, or other organizations are they involved in?


Weave all of these things into the questions you design for your conversation. What you should never do is ask a question that could easily be found on line.


5. Design Your Conversation

Identify 3 to 5 desired outcomes for the conversation.

  • What do you want to know?

  • Do you want to ask for additional introductions to other professionals?

  • What kind of impression do you want to leave?


Then, design a conversation that yields meaningful information and leaves a good impression.


In an informational interview this is YOUR job.


It’s not the job of the expert to simply regale you with their wisdom. This is a chance for you to get information critical to your job search strategy.


Send your questions or topics ahead of time, as we did in the note above.


What this does:

  • This allows the expert to visualize the conversation, and makes it easier for them to say YES to you.

  • It demonstrates your professionalism.

  • Gets the expert curious about you ahead of time.

  • Sets you apart from the competition - the 80% who show up unprepared and waiting to be spoon-fed.


6. Manage Your Meeting

Although it’s not a job interview, dress and behave as if it is. It demonstrates respect and professionalism toward your expert.


Also, remember, this is YOUR meeting, not the expert’s. So plan accordingly and expect to manage the timeline and conversation. If this is a new skill for you, you can role-play with a friend to practice.


Be sure to show up promptly (about 10 minutes prior to your appointment) and greet the receptionist warmly and politely.


Turn off your mobile and focus completely on this conversation.


Bring with you:

  1. An agenda with your questions. Share with your expert to help guide the conversation.

  2. A notepad and pen to take notes. If you want to record the session on a mobile device, be sure to get the expert’s permission first.

  3. Your business card, and a copy of your resume. This will help provide the expert context on you, your education and experience. It will also allow him to pass it along if appropriate. You could also bring a blue, 2-pocket folder in which to present all your documents.


When you begin your meeting:

  • Start with a firm handshake, a smile, and a word of appreciation.

  • Reconfirm the time you've been allotted and signal that you understand the boundaries.


I see we’ve got until 11:30 for this conversation. Is that still a good time frame for you?

  • Outline what you hope to accomplish in the meeting.

  • Start your interview, ask follow-up or clarifying questions when it makes sense. This is where your research will really support you!


Approximately 5 to 7 minutes before your “hard stop,” begin to wrap the meeting up.

Well, Bill, this has been so great. I see we have about 5 minutes left. I want to be sure to honor your time today, so I’ll begin wrapping this up.


Then ask any burning questions you haven’t had a chance to get to, or, ask if the expert has any observations, comments, or additional wisdom to share with you.


This is where you can also outline your “asks:”

  • Who else would you suggest I connect with on this issue?

  • What other professionals would they be willing to introduce you to? A “warm” introduction is the best kind.

  • What kind of feedback would you like from them; on your resume, the interview, your experience, or strategy?

  • Ask what you can do to help them, to return the favor of their time and wisdom.


Then, leave promptly and completely at the appointed end of the meeting.


What this does:

  • It demonstrates your ability to facilitate a conversation.

  • It demonstrates your ability to manage to a timeline.

  • It shows you are respectful and appreciative of other’s time.


After all, when someone gives you their time, they are giving you the most precious resource they have. They don’t get those minutes back.


Planning and facilitating a good informational interview makes the time meaningful for you AND them. 


7. Don’t Expect A Job To Be Handed To You

One executive said some graduates come in expecting to be handed a job. Perhaps they found him through an alumni or parent connection. At any level that’s a naive perspective. Jobs aren't handed out. You compete for them.


One of the ways you can earn them is by preparing and conducting great informational interviews. Leave a strong impression in your interviewee’s mind!


8. Always Send A Follow-Up Thank You Note, In Writing, And Follow-Up

When someone gives you his or her time and it’s not acknowledged, it’s just rude.


When they send you off with suggestions for action, and they never hear back, it shows poor follow-up skills on your part.


Use your follow up note to continue your relationship building.


Dear Bill,


Thank you so much for the time you spent with me this morning. I learned so much from our conversation and it’s really helped clarify my job search strategy.


Also, thank you for the introduction to Micah Woods. I’ll be reaching out to her this afternoon. I’ll follow up with you once we’ve had a chance to meet.


I deeply appreciate the time you took this morning. It was a pleasure to meet you. I look forward to staying connected as I explore this exciting field in my career.


Warm regards,




It is so easy to leave a positive, memorable impression.

  • Send a hand written professional thank you note as soon as you return from your appointment.

  • Follow-up. If your contact introduces you to others, or gives you specific leads to track down in your job search, let them know how things turned out. This keeps you in their active network and visible as a professional who follows up. It demonstrates their time was well spent.

  • Stay in the loop. Keep this expert in your network, and send them a monthly update on your progress; share articles you think would be of interest to them.

  • Always offer to return the favor, even if you can’t imagine how you might.


Informational interviews can be a lucrative way to build your network, and expand your job search investigation.


But if you aren’t serious about it, and don’t want to do the pre-work, don’t go in unprepared.


You’ll just waste your connection’s time, and yours. Worse, you’ll make yourself look total unprofessional, and damage your reputation in the process.


Have you done any informational interviews? What did you do to make them work for you AND your contact?  Leave a comment below or on my community discussion page!


{#/pub/images/LeaMcLeod.jpg}Written by Lea McLeod, M.A., Founder & CEO, Degrees of Transition 

Lea works extensively with new grads who are tackling the job search for the first time.  She is a guest speaker, as well as facilitator of the “Find a Job Faster” Job Search Program and “Developing Patterns of Success” Workshop & Webinar series, bringing over 20 years of director level experience, most recently with Hewlett-Packard, managing, leading and serving worldwide employees. She holds a degree in Marketing from St. Bonaventure University, and a Master of Arts in Organization Development from Seattle University.


Do you have a question for Lea?  Post it in our College Student/Recent Grad Community, she will be happy to help: Ask An Expert 


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Here are some related articles you may be interested in:  

6 Tips to Jumpstart Your Career Before Graduation

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7 Trust-Killers in Your First Job

7 Ways to Quell First Job Jitters

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ManagingAmericans.com is a community of Business Professionals & Expert Consultants sharing knowledge, success tips and solutions to common job issues.  Our objective is to mentor and develop professionals to be better leaders, managers, team players and individual contributors. Ultimately, helping people succeed in their careers.

Comments (4)

Dianna Booher posted on: June 24, 2013

Thanks for posting these tips. So few job-seekers follow these principles--particularly, the one about "managing the meeting." It's always so surprising that when someone asks to meet for "advice" on their job search that they don't have specific questions in mind!

Dave Rothacker posted on: December 7, 2013

This is such a rich and thorough treatment of the info interview Lea. You covered my two most favorite things to bring to an interview: respect and curiosity.

Although I abhor the concept of resumes, I do suggest to bring one, but not pass it out unless asked. I once heard a story of a young lady walking in to interview the owner of an ad agency. At the last minute he invited four members of his management team. She excused herself, went out to the car and brought back four more of her portfolio packets. (The owner had asked for one copy)

Keeping experts in the loop is so important. Interviewees like to hear how they have been of help. That same young lady designed an annual campaign where she sends creative and sometimes hand written updates three times per year. It's been ten years since her first interview and she's still doing it. I know you realize the fruit of her endeavors Lea, but I am just stressing it for your readers.

Lea McLeod posted on: December 16, 2013

Hi Dave,
Thanks so much for your comments, and the stroy about the gal with the resumes. I love that! And the follow up? That is stellar. And it's so easy to do. I agree that people like to hear about "the rest of the story."

And because so few people actually do follow up like that, they will totally stand out if they do!

Many thanks for reading, and for your comment!

Shalmali Bapat posted on: June 1, 2018

Thanks a lot for this tips on informational interview because i am new to this term, didn't know this before about informational interview and in next week i have informational interview so had to study about it, and this article cleared my doubts so cheers to this article.

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