By Chris Tobias
I f you’re considering a move to a new career but aren’t ready to start your job applications, an informational interview could be the perfect first step. An informational interview is simply a short, informal discussion with someone currently working in your field of interest. These interviews are a great networking tool for both professionals and students. Although informational interviews are not job interviews, the etiquette is similar. Informational interviews are typically less formal, but still professional. Practicing proper etiquette in an informational interview is just as important as in a job interview.
Requesting an Interview
Proper etiquette begins when you reach out to a professional to request an informational interview. Email and phone calls are both acceptable methods to initiate contact, but in either case your tone should remain professional. When you first speak with someone, let them know who you are, why you’re calling, and how you found their name. Politely request an informational interview, providing a clear explanation of what you’re interested in learning and how long you expect the interview to take. (Most informational interviews last half an hour or less.) Be as flexible as you can with the time, date, and location of the interview. You’re asking a stranger for a favor, so it’s important to make it as easy for them to oblige as possible. Whether they agree to the interview or not, respect their decision and thank them.
Etiquette at the Interview
Treat the informational interview itself as if you were at a job interview. Depending on the professional field and the location of the interview, you should dress in either a suit or business casual. Leave the t-shirts and shorts at home. You should also arrive to the interview location a few minutes before it begins. One of the worst things that you can do is keep the person that you reached out to waiting.
Unlike a job interview in which you are mostly answering questions, in an informational interview you’ll likely need to drive the conversation. Come prepared with a list of well-researched questions. It’s okay to have this list out and read from it during the interview, but don’t stay glued to it the entire time. Taking notes is both acceptable and expected, so make sure to bring a pen and paper. Just make sure not to take so many notes that it interrupts the flow of the conversation.
In an informational interview, the conversation itself is typically much less formal than at a job interview. It’s okay to ask candid questions about the person’s company and field, as long as you don’t pressure them for an answer. You should also make sure not to let the casual tone of conversation lead to you saying anything unprofessional. Topics bordering on gossip are still not appropriate. At the end of the interview, thank them for their time and ask whether it would be okay to follow up with them in the future.
After the Interview
After the interview, send a note thanking the person you spoke with for their time and insights. They’ve taken time out of their day to help you without asking for anything in return, so it’s important to sincerely express your gratitude. If the meeting went well, you could even continue to reach out to them in the future. Informational interviews often turn into permanent professional contacts, helping both parties to build their networks.
Informational interviews are less formal than job interviews, but the standard rules of professional etiquette still apply. If you have an upcoming informational interview, remember to dress well, keep the conversation professional, and follow up with a thank-you note. Demonstrating proper professional etiquette is the best way to turn your interviewee into a permanent part of your network.