What is an informational interview? The ultimate guide

Searching for a new job can be overwhelming, with all sorts of confusing terminology and practices that you may not be aware of. From behavioural interviews to informational ones, it can be difficult to keep up with the many different types of interview and what to expect from each one. In this guide, you will learn the definition of an informational interview, how to request one, how to prepare and follow up, as well as tips for attending an informational interview.

What is an informational interview?

The definition of an informational interview is a conversation between two professionals that’s intended to share information about a job role or company. It is usually quite informal, and often you will have to take the initiative to request an informational interview, rather than be offered one. Informational interviews usually arise from successful networking, and give job applicants the opportunity to learn more about a company, position or industry from a seasoned professional. Doing an informational interview is a great way to take control of your career development if you aren’t 100% happy with your current role.

What is the goal of an informational interview?

The main goal of an informational interview is for the interviewee to gain more insight about a job they are currently interested in. Lots of people may set up an informational interview hoping to end up in a new role, but this isn’t always the case. Whilst an informational interview can greatly help with the process of securing a job, they also help applicants to expand their network, gain insider knowledge, and practise their interview skills. 

The goal of an informational interview will be unique to each person, however, it should always end with the interviewee gaining more knowledge about the position and industry they would like to work in.

How to request an informational interview

Sending out a request for an informational interview can feel awkward, especially if you don’t know the person you’re reaching out to. There are two ways that you will ask for an informational interview: either to someone you’ve previously interacted with, or to someone you have no former relationship with.

1. Ask your existing network

If you want to arrange an informational interview with someone you already know, the process will be much easier than writing to a stranger. Simply contact them via email, LinkedIn, or over the phone and ask if they would be interested in a brief informational interview. You should let them know your aim for the interview - are you looking to fill a job opening at their company? Or are you more focused on the advice and knowledge they can offer? Set a date and location for your informational interview, and of course, remain polite and professional during the interaction. 

2. Send a cold email

A cold email is an email that’s sent to someone you have had no prior contact with. If you are interested in a career change, a cold email may be necessary if you don’t have existing connections within your new industry. Although it can seem daunting, sending cold emails is a necessary action for setting up an informational interview with people you don’t know. So, how do you ask for an informational interview over email?

1. Be concise

No one has time to read a 1,000-word email, so they probably won’t. Keep your email short and sweet to make it easy for the recipient to read during their busy day. Professionals are unlikely to read a very long email that’s unrelated to their daily tasks, and it may also seem disrespectful to their time to expect them to read it. Don’t waste a single word - get straight to the point in your email whilst still remaining polite and professional. 

2. Write a direct subject line

The subject line is the first thing recipients will see before even opening the email. So, it’s essential that you make it very clear what the email is about. Don’t worry about fancy words and phrases, and instead just let the recipient know what to expect from your email. An example of a subject line would be: “Informational Interview Request” or “Interested to know more about X job opening”. 

3. Explain your reason for emailing

Although we recommend not going into too much detail in your email, you should still explain the reason for your message, as well as relevant information about yourself. Include your professional background and why you are interested in the position on offer. It’s very helpful to personalise your email to the recipient. For example, you could mention LinkedIn posts or interviews with them that you have engaged with and found useful. Let them know exactly why you are interested in an informational interview with them, and not anyone else.

4. Cater to their needs

Someone holding an informational interview is doing you a favour, so you should be very flexible around their availability and preferences. Try to make yourself available for the dates and times that work best for them, as they are unlikely to go ahead with the interview if it inconveniences them too much. You should make an effort to attend the location that works best for them, and be open to conducting the interview over phone or video call if they suggest it. 

How would you prepare for an informational interview?

Once you’ve arranged an informational interview, don’t forget to prepare. Just like with a formal interview or other meeting, you don’t want to be caught off guard during the process. Be sure to arrive with a clear idea of what you hope to accomplish during the interview, including a list of questions you would like to ask. If you’re not sure what makes a good meeting, take a look at 10 ways to have productive meetings that will help you get the most out of any interviews and meetings.

1. Dress appropriately

First impressions count, so you should ensure that you are dressed for the position you want. If you are interviewing an employee at a top law firm, be sure to dress yourself accordingly. This will ensure that you give a great first impression, appearing professional and dedicated to the role. Pick out your most professional outfit in advance, and make sure it’s clean, ironed, and ready to wear for your interview.

2. Research

An informational interview is slightly different to a traditional interview, as the focus of the conversation will be on the other person, rather than you. So, it’s essential to do plenty of research beforehand, about the person’s professional background, responsibilities, etc. Not only does this help you decide what to ask in your interview, but it also shows the interviewee that you are prepared. 

3. Create a list of questions

To be fully prepared for your informational interview, you should create a comprehensive list of all the questions you want to ask. These could be about career progression, company culture, workload, or anything else you are interested in learning about the role. Don’t worry if you need some more help, as we have a list of sample questions below.

4. Practice

Being confident will help you to thrive in the informational interview. Confidence doesn’t come naturally to everyone, which is why it’s important to practise ahead of the meeting. Whether it’s rehearsing questions in the mirror, or conducting a mock interview with a friend, it is essential to prepare yourself ahead of time. This can also give you a good idea of how long the interview will take.

How to conduct an informational interview

When you arrive at the interview, briefly introduce yourself and explain what you want to gain from this interaction. You will then have the opportunity to ask a variety of questions which will give you helpful insight into the role you are pursuing. It helps to have a notepad handy to take notes. This will show that you are engaged with the interview, and will also be helpful to look back at after the interview. You should prepare around 5-10 questions, however this will vary depending on how much time you’ve set aside for the interview. Continue reading for a list of informational interview sample questions.

Questions to ask in an informational interview

Not sure what questions to ask in an informational interview? Take a look at these informational interview sample questions for some help with your planning process:

  • What made you want to work in this industry?
  • Why did you choose X company?
  • What did your career path look like?
  • What advice would you give to avoid career burnout?
  • Which steps are most important for reaching X position?
  • What skills do you use everyday in this role/industry?
  • What new skills have you learned from this role?
  • Which skills do you find most valuable in this industry?
  • What is the company culture like at [company]?
  • What important decisions do you have to make in your role?
  • What is your least favourite part of the job?
  • What do you enjoy most about your role?
  • How would you describe your work/life balance? Has this changed as your career progressed?
  • What are the most difficult challenges you have faced in your career?
  • Can you describe a typical day in your role?
  • What have you found most rewarding about working in this industry?
  • Is there anything you wish you knew before starting your role?
  • Do you have any recommendations for publications/newsletters/channels where I can find more relevant industry information?
  • Are there any more questions you feel I should be asking?

Should you send a thank you letter after an informational interview?

Many people will send thank you notes after an informational interview to show their appreciation for the other person taking the time to talk. Although not essential, expressing your gratitude for their time and wisdom will go a long way in creating a positive professional relationship, and may encourage them to stay in touch with you. You can also use a thank you letter to confirm your interest in an open position at their company, which lets them know you are serious about the role. 

Sample thank you letter for an informational interview

Hi [Their Name],

Thank you for taking the time to meet with me today and answering my questions. I found the interview incredibly helpful and now feel I have lots of valuable information about [industry], including X, X, and X. 

I hope we can speak again soon to discuss [role], which I now have a detailed understanding of the skills and responsibilities necessary to thrive in this role. I found your advice about X most useful, and will definitely be implementing that moving forward.

I really appreciate you taking the time out of your day to speak with me, and hope I can be of assistance to you in the future.


[Your Name]

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