Get an Inside Look With Informational Interviews

Two people at informational interview

Informational interviews are a great way to get the answers to questions you might have in your job search. Maybe you just graduated with a degree in finance, but you’re not quite sure which area you want to work in. Or you already have an accounting job, but you're looking to forge a new career path. Chances are you have plenty of questions. 

Asking experienced professionals who have specialized expertise about their role and what it involves can give you real-world insights.

It can also build relationships and open doors that could lead to a job. Eighty-four percent of chief financial officers (CFOs) in a recent Accountemps study said they were likely to alert someone who impressed them in an informational interview of new job openings.

Read more about our survey of more than 2,200 CFOs, and view an infographic of its findings.

Here are some tips to help you with this classic networking tactic and get the most out of an informational interview.

First, land the informational interview

Before you approach anyone, research the fields and positions you’re most interested in, and make a list of job titles and specific companies you’d like to check out. Then reach out to your network — both online and off — to look for connections: Maybe you have a LinkedIn contact who works in the field you're interested in, or perhaps your college roommate’s brother is employed at an organization you admire. 

Approach each contact separately; don’t send a mass email. Personalize your message to each potential interviewee and let them know why you’d like to chat with them for 20 or 30 minutes. Finally, make it clear that you’re not asking for a job, but rather that you're looking for information to help you decide what kind of job you want.

Then do your homework and prepare your questions

Unlike a job interview, where you need to answer questions, you'll need to prepare a list of questions for the informational interview. Avoid yes or no questions; instead, go for those likely to lead to long, detailed responses, such as these:

• How did you get your start in this career?
• What’s your favorite part of your job? Least favorite?
• What skills do you use the most?
• What’s a typical day like?
• Are any trends emerging that you think might affect your job and/or the industry?
• If you could go back and give yourself a piece of advice on your first day at your job, what would it be?

Also, try to include a few customized questions based on the research you did on the professional’s company and position. For example, you might ask about a recent project, a high-profile client or conferences that have been especially useful.

Consider details, such as your wardrobe  

Follow the same basic rules for informational interviews as you would for job interviews: Dress professionally and conservatively, arrive early, and be sure to maintain eye contact when others are speaking to you.

And finally, don't forget to follow up

After the meeting, follow up with a thank-you note, and connect with the person on your social networks if you haven’t already.

Then pat yourself on the back for completing this fact-finding, relationship-building mission. It's not always easy to put yourself out there — but you never know where your efforts will lead you.

Looking for a job? Accountemps can help you find a new opportunity.


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Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2015 and was updated in 2016 to reflect more current information.