Before a Job Interview: How To Conduct an Informational Interview.

Updated on: April 3rd, 2023

October 7th 2022

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  • According to the common consensus, the best way to research your potential future employers is to conduct informational interviews.

  • It’s often easier said than done: How to contact a person whom you’ve never met before and persuade them to give you insightful information?

  • In this article, we provide tips for how to effectively approach the whole informational interview process: how to find the right person and properly invite them to an interview, how to handle the Intellectual Property, and what to actually ask about to get these results.

Informational Interview: The Key To Prepare For Job Interviews.

In the world of professional development, the expression “informational interviews” made a spectacular career. How to get proper information about the positions of interest to you in an industry sector or a company that you never worked for to improve on your career prospects and advance your career?  

An informational interview is the answer! According to the common consensus, the best way to research your potential future employers and gain a competitive advantage in the job interviews is to conduct informational interviews. 

This research method will not only give you a better picture of the workplace you are applying to, but is also an efficient method to learn about the employer’s values and modus operandi and, as such, a way to win the competition and get the job. 

Unfortunately, scheduling informational interviews is easier said than done. How to contact a person whom you’ve never met before and persuade them to give you insightful information? Especially when you are an introvert

How to persuade them to spend time answering your questions? How to make sure that they tell you the truth instead of just sugarcoating their boss? 

The Fear of Approaching Strangers For Informational Interviews: It’s an Atavism!

At the end of the day, the fear of approaching strangers is our natural, inborn atavism. In the old days, it was plain dangerous! No wonder that until this day, we feel an internal blockade when it comes to reaching out to new people. 

However, times have changed! Unlike in the old days, today, people usually give a highly positive response to any attention received from strangers. 

One mistake that job hunters often make is assuming that they bother others by asking them questions about their professional lives. Nothing could be further from the truth! 

Most people love to answer questions about themselves and treat it as quality time, not a duty. They would eagerly spend hours talking about their career in the finest detail!

Therefore, don’t hesitate to invite people to informational interviews — you might actually do them a favor. And, by asking them the right questions, you might prompt them to deliberate on their professional lives and possibly change something for the better too.

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How To Find The Right Person For an Interview?

First of all, you should know that you are allowed to contact any employee from any company, from an intern to a CEO, and ask your questions. Whether or not they can answer you is another story, as some of them might be bound by Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) and so on.

If you really want to know how working at a certain workplace feels, you should ask employees rather than recruiters, as the recruiters will always give you bleached responses to the question — they are professional diplomats after all.

And, asking former employees works even better than asking current employees. Former employees are no longer under pressure to keep good relations with their employer, and will eagerly share their real opinions about the employer and the workplace. The reason why they left the workplace will also tell you much about the nature of that workplace.

So, how to look for the right people to interview? There is a saying: “You need help? Find a young female with a dog.” It is a joke but certain types of people indeed tend to be more altruistic and helpful than others. It is the easiest to spot them face to face — for instance, at the conference in your field — rather than online.

Anyhow, in practice, you have a few choices.

1. Meetups and Conferences.

Informational interviews are not formal. If you bump into a person representing a profession or a workplace you are interested in, just smile, introduce yourself, and ask your questions. You don’t need any foreplay! People have a natural need to be helpful and they love to talk about themselves, including their daily professional lives. 

If you happen to catch a good vibe with a new person at a conference, but they don’t work for your dream employer, you might also ask them if they know someone who works there. The chances are, they do — and they would be happy to connect you with the right person.

2. Online.

Today, LinkedIn is THE place to go when it comes to professional development. As a LinkedIn user, you are entirely free to browse through all users at the platform, and invite them to contacts, writing personal 300-character-long invitations on the side. 

This will allow you to view the professional history of other users, pick the right people, and invite them to the interviews. It will be a trade-off: you can expect a lower response rate than when inviting people in real life. But on the other hand, you have a much larger pool of people to choose from.

What is the most important: once you are interested in working for a particular company, you should browse for it through LinkedIn browser. What you will get in response, will be the list of people in your network who are current or past employees of this company. Needless to say, your contacts is the first group of people you should contact asking for options!

Please find more information about how to properly network on LinkedIn in our article “Top 11 Rules For Effective Networking on LinkedIn” and on utilizing social media for your career in the article “5 Rules for How To Make Social Media Benefit Your Career.”

How To Invite To An Informational Interview?

First, you need to introduce yourself briefly and explain the reason behind approaching your interviewee. At the end of the day, they have no idea how you are — you might be, in example, a nosy representative of a competitive company or some salesperson who just aims to sell them something. 

You don’t need to be elaborate; two to three sentences about your background, your aims, and current professional situations are enough. What is important is to be kind and explain that you are looking for career options and you are a potential job candidate interested in this particular employer. 

If you cold-message someone asking for an interview via email or LinkedIn, keep a semi-formal tone. If you approach the person at a meeting, you can afford a more casual, friendly tone right off the bat.

With approaching invitations to informational interviews, it is similar to approaching interviews: praise your potential future employer and you will get a much warmer reception. It is good to say at least one positive statement about why you are interested in this particular workplace. 

Of course, your interviewee might verify later on if your thinking about the employer is even correct in their opinion, but it’s important to start on a positive note.

Should you propose something in an exchange for an interview? Well, in general, it is not a good idea. It is all a matter of human psychology. 

If you propose any gratification, people start associating their help with a job of some sort. If they receive no material gratification but rather, hear a genuine “Thank you for your invaluable help!” instead, they treat the interview as a charity and typically, feel more satisfaction from it. 

Therefore, as a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t offer any material benefits in an exchange for an interview — unless, of course, it is a Starbucks coffee or any other little treat. 

How Many Interviewees To Recruit For the Informational Interview?

There is no rule here, but obviously, to improve on your career prospects, the more the better. It is good to get at least two independent opinions — there is a human factor here and one isolated opinion might be highly biased. As statisticians like to say, “N equals one” is not the best source of information.

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How To Properly Ask For Information, Without Breaking NDA Agreements or Other Intellectual Property?

Protecting Intellectual Property at the Informational Interview.

As a rule of thumb, keeping the company’s Intellectual Property confidential is your interviewee’s problem, not yours. At the end of the day, it’s they who signed agreements with their employer and who are bound by these agreements.

Of course, it will be welcome if you mention during the interview that you don’t intend to dig into confidential information and that you are only interested in answers to a few general questions about the workplace and the working conditions. You might say, for instance, 

“I will only ask you general questions about the workplace and the working conditions, as I don’t want to cause you any trouble.”

This will build trust between you and your interviewee.

Stick To The Same Rules As At The Job Interview.

Moreover, it is important to stick to the rules of savoir vivre while inviting professionals to the informational interviews. Let your interviewee choose convenient time and platform or venue for an interview, and don’t be late! 

It is also important to remember that in many countries recording an audio or a video from a meeting without permission from the other party is illegal, even if the recording is meant for your own private use. Therefore, ask for permission whenever you are planning to record anything. If you hear “no,” you can still make old school written notes!

Lastly, don’t forget to send a thanksgiving note the day after the interview and express your gratitude for the time and effort invested in your career.

What To Actually Ask About?

Now, what to ask about? Well, if you target a particular company and your interview works or worked there, it is best to focus on the questions that will tell you if this is indeed your dream workplace, and best prepare you for the job interviews. 

Namely, ask questions about the culture. Exemplary questions that you might ask are as follows:

  • “What is a typical day (or week) like for you?”
  • “How do you enjoy your working benefits?”
  • “Do you have much room for personal development at this position?”
  • “What kinds of decisions do you make? How are the decisions in your team made?”
  • “How do you feel about the work pace in your team?”
  • “What is the structure of management over you? What is the management style in this workplace?”
  • “How does your job affect your general lifestyle?”
  • “Do you spend some of your free time with your coworkers?”
  • “What steps would you recommend I take to prepare for a position like this?”

Extra questions for professionals who know you in person:

  • “Let’s be honest: do you believe that I would fit your team?”
  • “Are there any vacancies you could recommend me for?”
  • “Have you heard of any upcoming vacancies or plans of creating or extending some teams or departments?”

Is it appropriate to ask “Do you enjoy your job?” Of course! You might also ask this question in an indirect way, for instance: “What is your favorite and least favorite thing about your job?” The answer will tell you a lot about your interviewee’s general job satisfaction. 

Of course, it is ideal if you can make notes during the informational interview. Recording a video without permission is prohibited but you can always take notes with pen and paper. The notes will be helpful, specially if you interview multiple people on the same subject matter.

How To Figure Out if This Person Really Enjoys Their Job, or Just Says So?

Of course, this is much easier if you meet someone in real life, like at a conference. People tend to open up more while having social interactions rather than answering questions on paper. They will also feel safer knowing that there is no track record of their words. 

For this exact reason, once you meet people online, it is good to invite people to an online meeting rather than asking them questions in writing. While talking to you on screen, they will get the feeling of confidentiality.

Also, you might get more truthful answers to your questions if you give people the chance to be positive about their workplace before they are prompted to get critical. The classic question to achieve this goal is, 

“Can you tell me three best and one worst thing about your employer?”

This question gives the interviewee the feeling that they can share one negative opinion as they compensate this opinion with three positive statements right away. So, they will be more inclined to tell you the truth.

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Shall I Use Chatbots To Prepare for Informational Interviews?

And how about using ChatGPT and other chatbots based on Large Language Models using Natural Language Processing to educate yourself about the employer? Is this a good idea?

The short answer is: of course! These new, free, intelligent virtual assistants can make the process of applying for a job interview even easier. For instance, you can ask a chatbot to extract a useful information about the company right from the company page. It is enough to give ChatGPT a clear instruction including the source landing page of the employer of interest:

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One thing to remember is that the responses will be based on official information supplied by the employer. Therefore, talking in private with the current and former company employees is still advised.

Conclusion: How To Conduct an Informational Interview?

Informational interviews are, indeed, a great way to prepare for job interviews. They will give you lots of insight into the workplace which is a great advantage when it comes to talking to Hiring Managers. 

If you are lucky enough and make a good impression on your interviewee, you might even get recommended by them for the position! At the end of the day, many employers offer referral programs for their employees. Namely, they offer bonuses for employees as in exchange for recommending good candidates.

And of course, informational interviews might also improve on your career prospects by preventing you from applying to toxic environments where practicing gaslighting and mobbing is a norm. This is a type of information that you likely won’t find via googling but only via talking to other people. 

Just make sure that you give your interviewee a space to express themselves, that you show them genuine interest as professionals and as people, and carefully listen to their story. They will pay you back for your interest with invaluable information that might change the course of your career.

For more information about how to prepare for the job interviews and how to address interviewers’ expectations during the job interviews, please check our articles:

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Please cite as:

Bielczyk, N. (2022, October 7th). Before a Job Interview: How To Conduct an Informational Interview. Retrieved from https://ontologyofvalue.com/before-a-job-interview-how-to-conduct-an-informational-interview/

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