The Ins and Outs of Informational Interviews

If you're graduating soon, your last month in school will likely be divided between hitting the books, possibly going to a party or two, and searching for a job. One way to help your career prospects is to conduct informational interviews.

Looking for real-world insights into a particular design or marketing job? While it's an underutilized approach, conducting informational interviews with successful creative professionals can help you in various ways. In addition to validating or dispelling what you've assumed about a particular job, these meetings enable you to expand your network and gain additional interview experience.

Here are some tips on going about informational interviews the right way.

Setting Up Informational Interviews

You can likely find expert sources to tap on Twitter and LinkedIn. But also reach out to family, friends, mentors, professors and your college's alumni association for names of people you might contact. Having an "in" never hurts. When making contact with potential interviewees, briefly explain who you are, your career objective and what insights you hope to gain from the informational interview.

Request 30 minutes of the person's time and be clear that you're seeking information only. If the individual is receptive, ask for a face-to-face meeting at his or her office. Grabbing coffee or lunch is fine, but talking with people in their actual workspace can be highly instructive.

Preparing for Informational Interviews

How much you get out of the meeting depends largely on how much you prepare. Read up on your interviewee and his or her organization. Do an online search and review the firm's website and any marketing materials you can find. Then, develop a list of informed, open-ended questions such as:

  • How did you get started in the industry?
  • What do you love about your job?
  • What do you like least about the role?
  • What skills, abilities and attributes will I need to succeed?
  • What's your typical day like?
  • What emerging trends do you expect to impact your job the most?
  • What do you wish you had known at the start of your career?

Conducting Informational Interviews

Dress professionally (even if you think the person works at a jeans and t-shirt kind of company) and arrive early. Turn off your smartphone, maintain good eye contact, listen attentively and take notes. And while it's good to have your questions handy, be willing to veer off script if your interviewee goes on an interesting tangent. Going with the flow will help you establish more natural rapport. Before closing the conversation, ask the person for the names of other creative professionals who'd be good to interview.

Following Up

Immediately send a post-interview thank-you note. A gracious email will suffice, but there's nothing quite as classy as the personal touch of a handwritten card. Send a request to connect on LinkedIn. As time goes on, continue building the relationship by keeping the interviewee apprised of your job search and career development.

The bottom line is that every experienced creative professional was once in your shoes. And people tend to want to help enterprising and enthusiastic recent graduates. In a competitive job market, you want as much information about the roles you're applying for as possible. Plus, if you make a strong impression during the informational interview, you could end up gaining job leads or possibly a new mentor whom you can continue to turn to for advice throughout your career. 

Related post: Job Interviewing Tips for Recent Grads from Three Agency Heavyweights