How to land an informational interview

Informational interview illustration

An informational interview is a great way to learn about a company or industry that interests you from a first-hand perspective. I know that it can be nerve-wracking to have coffee with a stranger, but the stakes are low, and what do you have to lose? Jay Reedy, MRED alumnus was hesitant about informational interviews at first too. 

“When the idea of informational interviews was first proposed to me, I didn’t take it seriously. In fact, I rolled my eyes at the notion of conducting them and discarded them completely. It wasn’t until I was speaking with another MRED student who acquired his development job by performing informational interviews over the course of six months that my opinion started to change about them.” —Jay Reedy, MRED ‘19

Reedy enrolled in The School of Business’ professional mentoring program and made connections with professionals in the development community through his mentor. After conducting informational interviews every ten days for a few months, he saw how beneficial they were, “if I had to guess, I’d say it’s highly likely that the position I land will be with a firm that I did an informational interview with.” Although the intention of initiating an informational shouldn’t be to secure a job, these connections can be highly valuable when you are looking for your next opportunity. 

How to plan for an informational interview

The best way to connect with someone for an informational is to be introduced by a mutual connection. If you don’t have a professional network, today is the day to start building one! For those of you who are transitioning into a different industry or have recently moved to a new area, leverage tools like LinkedIn to reach out to professionals that you’d like to meet. You’d be surprised at how many cold reach outs on LinkedIn could turn into coffee meetings or phone conversations. Personally, I’ve reached out to 52 people via LinkedIn, 23 of them responded to my message, and 22 agreed to meet with me in person over coffee. 

First and foremost, if you’re interested in a certain industry or job, make it known to your mentors, classmates, friends and career advisors. Your network can’t connect you to people if they don’t know what interests you. Secondly, make it a weekly goal to reach out to people. For example: I’m going to reach out to five people this week and meet with at least two people this month. Don’t forget to: 

  • Do your research: Review their LinkedIn profile before you meet so you can refer to their career path or bring up professional associations they might belong to. Additionally, you may see that you have a mutual connection, in which case you can bring up if the conversation allows. 
  • Prepare your questions: This is a chance to learn about a certain industry or profession, so prepare some thoughtful questions to ask. Bonus points for doing some industry research and bringing up current events.
  • Arrive early: Arrive at the meeting 5–10 minutes early. Find a spot facing the door so you can greet them when they arrive. 

After the informational interview

Michelle Lantow, member of The School of Business’ Advisory Board was mid-career when she moved to Portland without knowing anyone. Her goal was to build a professional network from scratch so she could find a job. She ‘bought coffee’ for 74 strangers, which ultimately lead to 4 job offers. Based on her experience, Lantow provided our students with these tangible post-interview tips:

  • Keep a spreadsheet: It’s important to remain organized so you can send personalized updates and maintain connections. Keep a spreadsheet of your informational interviewers’ names, contact information and notes from your conversation. 
  • Write a thank you note: Email a thank you note within 48 hours of meeting. Be sure to include your resume with a brief paragraph of what you are looking for so that it’s easy for them to craft an e-intro to someone else for you. Bonus points for finding an article related to the topic you discussed and including a link in your email, noting how your conversation inspired you to learn more about the topic. 

Reedy and Lantow are just a few role models who illustrate the benefits of informational interviews. Still nervous about getting started? The more informational interviews you do, the less awkward they become. As a current student, you can make a one-on-one appointment to meet with our Professional Development Specialist, Allen Thayer to further discuss a strategy that works for you and your goals. Happy interviewing!

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