Informational Interviews: 4 Reasons Why They’re Alive and Well

Informational Interview

While you may not hear a lot about them these days, informational interviews remain a robust career tool. 

First: a brief definition. An informational interview is an informal, fact-finding mission to find out the pros and cons of a particular career path. It’s not a job interview, nor a veiled attempt to secure a job. It's also not a resource suited for just entry-level candidates. Whatever your length of service in an organization, the informational interview can be used when you’re looking to make a career change.

It’s an effort to elicit practical information and advice from a professional who is employed in the career or type of job to which you aspire. It is mentoring in its simplest form, truncated to a 20- or 30-minute conversation. The questions you ask are important, but listening should be your focus.

Here are four reasons to embrace informational interviews in the finance and accounting industry:

1. They may provide an early “in.”

Many great jobs are never advertised. A hiring manager knows someone, or knows someone who knows someone, and by way of relationship, that lucrative opportunity is filled before anybody knew it was available. In order for you to be that someone, you must first be a known quantity. Most people you talk to won’t have an immediate opening, but if you make a strong impression, they’ll think of you the next time one comes up. 

2. They're a networking opportunity.

It can be beneficial to have one-on-one time (even over the phone or on Skype) with a potential mentor or someone you’ve identified as a potential source of valuable insight, information and connections. Informational interviews present a golden opportunity to build relationships that can take you to the next level in your career.

3. They're a mentor magnet.

You’re not going to find a mentor with every informational interview, but meeting face-to-face with someone senior in your field or in a field you’re considering, is a great opportunity to do just that. In general, if someone is inclined to meet with you, they want to help you.

4. Employers find them useful.

Informational interviews can be equally valuable to hiring managers, offering a way to find potential hires. While this is not the primary function of the meeting, it’s a way for managers to preview the most active networkers in your area and an opportunity to nurture a promising candidate.

Kathleen Downs, a vice president with Robert Half Finance & Accounting, offers these tips on the subject of informational interviews:

  • Before you reach out, research the organization and the person you will interview.

  • Briefly explain who you are, your career objective and what insights you hope to gain from the meeting.   

  • Be clear that you're seeking information only, and ask for a face-to-face meeting at the person's workplace.

  • Dress professionally and arrive early.

  • Shut off your smartphone, listen attentively and take notes.

  • Focus on informed, open-ended questions, such as: How did you get started in the industry? What skills, abilities and attributes will I need to succeed? What do you wish you had known at the start of your career?

  • Don't ask: How much money do you make? Can I have a job? Would you mind looking at my resume? Use this interview as a chance to learn about the job and industry.

  • Make sure to show your appreciation of the person’s time, and send a post-interview thank-you note.  

Whether you want to create pivot tables or craft financial strategies, there’s often a senior colleague who can add value to your career. To get started, explore your professional associations, LinkedIn connections (and secondary connections) and friend/family network to find the people with the potential to help take your career a step up. Give it a try!

Do you have any experience landing or acing an informational interview? Please share them in the comments below.