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15th Dec, 2022

Victoria Sartain
Victoria Sartain
Job Title
Senior Content Writer

In the years before LinkedIn took off in popularity as a networking platform, conferences were regarded as the best way to engage with other professionals, complete with the frantic exchanging of business cards. Fast forward 20 years, and it’s considered unusual not to have a professional online profile. LinkedIn is now a first point of call for many employers when checking the profiles of potential recruits, as well as an important asset for professionals to keep up to date with their peers – an effortless way to network and find work.  

Networking has ultimately been ramped up a gear though technology, allowing an ‘in’ for those who may be shy about approaching prospective peers, mentors or employers in person. Now, it’s possible to engage with HR teams and individuals by way of a quick, courteous message, which could lead to an informational interview.  

How can I benefit from an informational interview?

An informational interview is simply an informal conversation with a key person in your sector or area of interest. Wherever you are in your career, you might fancy expanding your network, gaining new insight on a subject, or researching a company that you’re interested in. Connecting with someone in your field is a great way to gain a new perspective of your industry and can be inspiring and rewarding for both networker and their professional contact.  

In the USA – where networking has long been part of the working culture – the informational interview is viewed as a standard way to land your dream job. If you’re just entering the workplace, it’s a golden opportunity to make connections with a range of people in different organisations who may be helpful as you build your career. Just imagine landing a job interview hosted by your informational interviewee! When established in a role, those initial contacts could eventually become champions of your work, notifying you of opportunities before they are more widely known.     

The traditionally reserved nature of the British can make reaching out to new people feel a bit awkward at first, but it’s worth reminding yourself that this is a professional environment. Most people use LinkedIn as a place in which to share success and opportunities, and chances are you’ll connect with someone flattered to be approached, and happy to share their working experiences. If someone doesn’t have the courtesy to respond or is rude, you can simply move on without embarrassment.  

Put your interview skills to the test

The informational interview is a good opportunity to improve your interview skills too. Use the meeting as a rehearsal and prepare as you would for a standard job interview. It’s a chance to test out some general questions about the role or industry – and remember to take notes, as if you’re given a great answer or one not commonly known, that new knowledge is likely to impress future interviewers.  

The information interview is also a pressure-free opportunity to overcome any nerves you may have that typically show themselves in rambling speech, nervous laughter, or fidgeting. Don’t be shy to ask the person you’re interviewing for their overall impressions afterwards – tell them you’d appreciate an honest appraisal of where improvements could be made, perhaps in your preparation or how you came across. Online interviews can present challenges on both sides with building rapport and picking up on social cues, so it’s worth practising with friends or family beforehand if you’re not very confident about your presentation skills. 

As in a standard job interview, be ready to answer questions about yourself and be professional, regardless of the setting. Remember, the professional is taking valuable time to help you and it’s vital to make a good impression so they feel their time has been well spent, which may encourage them to help others. 

Who to contact for an informational interview

In your research, look for someone with a similar role or one you aspire to. CEOs are unlikely to have much free time to chat so try connecting with someone, on LinkedIn or a similar platform, who works for a company that interests you, and has a job that is appropriate for you to aim for with your current skills/goals. 

It could be someone who works in education, at a particular company you’re curious about, or someone whose career/education/background is like yours and who has done well. 

Send the contact a private message, not openly on social media, and be professional, clearly stating your objectives for an informational interview.  

Informational interview preparation

So, you’ve taken the lead and initiated a chat with someone in your field of interest. They’ve agreed to spend a few minutes talking to you about their organisation or role – if you’re lucky, they may invite you to their workplace for a chat but it’s more likely to be a telephone or video call. If you’re given a choice, the video call is preferable as it will help you establish a rapport more easily than by phone. Don’t underestimate the power of face-to-face opportunities – a positive introduction can leave a lasting impression, and if your professional profile includes your photo and you later pop up in a search run by your contact, you’ll be instantly recognisable.  

As with a standard job interview, make sure you’re well prepared ahead of your meeting. Research the company and industry trends, check the company website’s latest news headlines and find something in the contact’s professional online profile that could serve as a talking point. Ultimately, be clear about what you want to get out of the meeting.   

As with all interviews, be sure to dress appropriately for the occasion. It will serve to put you in a professional frame of mind, regardless of the informality of the meeting. If you’re anxious about forgetting to ask key questions, be sure to keep notes handy to refer to throughout. 

Informational interview questions

You want to gain as much insight as possible, but what should you ask during an informational interview? You might be interested in the contact’s work or education history, but this is unlikely to help you in the long term. Remember, you’re setting the agenda for the meeting, therefore it’s up to you to structure the conversation.  

Begin the informational interview by thanking the interviewee for their time and reiterating your fact-finding objectives.  

Consider open-ended questions around practical issues, such as this informational interview example: 

I noticed [latest news] is happening in your company/department – you must all be really pleased?

This is an ice-breaker that immediately shows you’re up to date with company developments and eager to find out more. It’s also a covert way of assessing how your contact feels about the project/business/industry. Hopefully, if they’ve agreed to speak to you in the first place, they will be upbeat and positive and keen to give you a good impression. 

Could you describe your typical working day?

This helps the interviewee warm up to their subject and expand on their role. You’ll want to come away feeling you have a good idea of the type of tasks undertaken, the deadlines, any soft skills that may benefit you, and any reoccurring challenges.  

What is most rewarding about your role?

This question will encourage a positive answer and is a good opener. You can expect to hear some of their personal and organisational successes, interesting aspects of the role and a glimpse into what they consider highs and lows.  

What tools/practices/research/studies have been most useful in your role?

The answer to this question will be helpful in your understanding of the qualities the company looks for in potential candidates. You might decide after hearing their response that you need further training, or a refresher on a particular type of software. Ask if the company is strong on staff development or invests regularly in new technology. 

What do you find most stressful in your work?

You may already have had this pointed out to you in the ‘typical working day’ question. If not, try to ascertain the most pressured aspects of the role, and you can later decide whether their response matches your expectations. 

Are there any industry trends that the business is following?

From your own research into industry trends, you will go to the informational interview well prepared. See if the interviewee mentions something that resonates so that you have something to add to the conversation. 

What’s the company culture like?

From this response, you can gauge the values and ethos of the organisation, and potentially how flexible they are in terms of onsite and remote working. How they answer this will usually be as valuable as what they say – someone who struggles to sound positive or glosses over the question is likely hiding their true opinion.  

Is it usual in your role to work long hours/shift patterns?

You might already be prepared for shift work or unsociable hours. The answer to this will also cover any overtime that tends to crop up. In certain sectors, unpaid overtime is par for the course, and, in some cases, lieu time is given in return. 

Do entry-level staff rise quickly through the ranks?

The answer to this will indicate how well the organisation values, develops and promotes new talent. It’s worth keeping an eye on the company’s employee reviews too for an indication of employee satisfaction.  

How did you start your career at the company?

From their answer, you may compare your own potential approach to beginning/changing your career. Bear in mind any generational gaps: a much older interviewee will likely have had different experiences if they began their career several years ago.   

What are the greatest challenges and opportunities in your role?

The answer to this question will hopefully present more opportunities than challenges – you'll gain an understanding of the current issues facing the team/business, and it’s an ideal opportunity to put forward your own thoughts for a solution. This will again highlight your enthusiasm as well as problem-solving skills. 

What advice would you give to someone starting out?

This question is an opportunity for the professional interviewee to wax lyrical about their work history and feel they’re actively helping you on your journey – a feelgood moment for both parties!  

Can you recommend anyone else in the industry I might talk to for further advice?

This is a natural follow-on question that can lead to more vital contacts for your network. The more professionals you can positively engage with, the greater chance you’ll have to improve your industry knowledge and ultimately land a great role in future. 

General advice for an informational interview

At the end of the informational interview, be courteous. Thank the interviewee for their time (also afterwards in writing, if possible) and explain how much it has helped you. If your conversation went well, ask if you could keep in touch for further mentorship.  

  • Don’t be shy to approach professionals via LinkedIn or by phone or email. 

  • Don’t ask for more than half an hour of their time – but be prepared with extra questions in case they offer more time chat during your meeting. 

  • Try to meet in person at their place of work or by video call, if possible. 

  • Prepare as thoroughly as if it were a standard job interview, with plenty of questions and some background knowledge of their professional history researched on LinkedIn. 

  • Don’t be late – if you can’t make the appointment for any reason, give as much notice as possible and be courteous. 

  • Don’t forget to have a paper copy of your CV to hand as it’s a perfect discussion point in an in-person meeting, and serves as a handy reference tool for online interviews too. 

  • Don’t ask for a job! 

  • Dress appropriately for the occasion.  

  • Outline your objectives giving a brief overview of your professional/educational history. 

  • Steer the conversation – try not to wander off topic. 

  • Stick to the allotted length of time suggested by the interviewee. 

  • Say thank you both on the call/in the meeting and afterwards in writing and ask if further contact with them or their peers might be possible. 

Informational interview notes for employers 

The informational interview is growing in popularity in the UK, with more and more employees being contacted privately to talk about their work experience, and about the company they work for. While you can’t control what is said in these informal conversations, you can work to improve the quality of life for your professionals. Find out more about raising employee satisfaction with our dedicated eBook. 

If you are looking for your next role, get in touch with one of our expert consultants today.