University of Wisconsin–Madison

A Step-by-Step Guide for Your First Informational Interview

photo of a man extending his hand for a handshake

An informational interview is kind of like an interview… on opposite day. It’s a 1:1 opportunity that you initiate to learn more about someone’s career path, experience with a company, responsibilities in a position, etc. Informational interviews (or meetings, since you’re not actually asking for a job) can be a helpful way to get job-search advice from people working in your field of interest.

Just remember: these meetings are for information-gathering purposes only. No “hire me” talk unless the other person initiates it. For that reason, we’ll use the term informational meetings for the rest of this post.

10 good reasons to set up an informational meeting:

 

  1. Help clarify and define your career goals
  2. Build confidence for job interviews (the kind where you do ask for a job)
  3. Get more information about a specific occupation, industry, or employer
  4. Learn what types of skills are needed to perform a specific job
  5. Demonstrate your motivation and interest to an employer
  6. Grow your professional network and increase your visibility by people who might hire you (or people who know people who might hire you)
  7. Find out what the next best steps are in your job search
  8. Learn about someone else’s career path and the steps he or she followed to get to where they are now
  9. Get advice about hiring trends
  10. Start a relationship with someone who could mentor you throughout your career

Finding people to meet with

 

  • You’re already part of one of the best networks there is, the University of Wisconsin, and you have thousands of Badger alumni who are ready and willing to help you
  • Create an account on LinkedIn and join the Wisconsin Alumni Association group
  • Join Badger Bridge for more connections to UW alumni
  • Join professional associations, attend conferences, and attend career fairs (nothing wrong with following up with someone you meet at any of these events)
  • Ask relatives, professors, advisors, friends, classmates, coworkers, supervisors, neighbors, and your barista for the names and contact information of people who work in the occupations, industries, or companies you want to learn more about

Make the first move: setting up and preparing for the meeting

 

  • Schedule a meeting prior to a job opening being posted
  • Contact the person in-person or by email, phone, or letter
  • Tell them your name, who referred you (if applicable), why you’re contacting them, and that you would like to meet for 20-30 minutes to learn more about _____ [insert your interest here]
  • Prepare questions before you meet (Read Get Out of the Hot Seat: Questions to Ask in Your Informational Interview for sample questions)
  • Research the person’s company or organization, especially if it’s one you’d like to work for someday (understanding the org’s mission, vision, goals, and competitors can help guide your conversation)
  • Be ready to talk about yourself; come prepared with short answers to the following questions:
    • Why are you interested in this type of work?
    • Why do you feel you would be a good “fit”?
    • What interests you about the industry, company, or job?
    • What are some of your long-term career goals?

The day of

 

  • What to wear: business professional or business casual are typically best
  • What to say to yourself in the mirror that morning: relax and be yourself
  • What to do: show up early (at least 10 minutes before your meeting) and remember that first impressions count — you never know who you may meet on your way in, while you wait, or on your way out
  • What to bring: copies of your resume (to give out only if they ask) + a pen and paper to take notes if you need to during the conversation + your list of questions

Show time: have some fun!

 

  • You’re there to learn so show interest, listen, maintain eye contact, respond, repeat
  • Be enthusiastic and friendly
  • Be prepared to initiate conversation and keep the discussion going
  • Stay on track but be flexible with natural conversation flow
  • Stick to the 20-30 minutes you originally promised
  • Before leaving, remember to:
    • Thank them and ask if you may stay in touch if you have more questions
    • Ask him/her to suggest names of other people who might have beneficial information
    • Ask permission to use his/her name when reaching out to the new contacts
    • Consider suggesting a follow-up appointment sometime (to stay on their “radar”)

One more step

 

  • Send a thank you note within a few days of the meeting (email is okay!)
  • Ask them to keep you in mind if they come across any information that may be helpful to you (make sure they have your contact information)
  • Save your conversations, follow-up ideas, commitments, and names of other important people in the organization
  • Keep in touch with your contacts and consider updating them on your internship/job search