A Guide to Informational Interviews

You’re brand new to an area or field and looking to get started. What do you do? All the advice says to start networking and gathering information but how do you do that? One great way are informational interviews.

An informational interview is an informal conversation where you can talk with someone working in a field or position you’re interested in. In this conversation you can ask for career advice, field or position specific information, and anything else that may help you get started in your career. Remember this is not a job interview but a chance to network, get advice and crucial information to help your job search, or progress along your career path (yes, you can have informational interviews while already employed).

The first step is research. You will need to learn about the field of work in Canada, the jobs available, and the companies who may be hiring.  Then you need to find companies that you’re interested in. Maybe you’d like to work there, or maybe they’re leaders in their field. Once you have identified these, look through their websites. Many companies will have a staff directory. If they don’t you can also look for employees via LinkedIn. Once you have identified someone you want to talk to, you are ready to send an email.

Most people will understand and expect these kinds of requests, so please don’t be afraid to contact them. The key is to ensure a polite and engaging email.  A template email you can start with is below

Subject Line: Request for Informational Interview;

“Hello my name is _______. I have just moved to Ontario from _______ (country) where I worked in ______ (field of work) for______ years. I heard that your organization is one of the leaders here in ______ (field of work). I’m currently gathering information and preparing to enter ______ (field of work) here. Would it be possible to meet with you for about 15 to 30 minutes so that I can find out more about _________? I would appreciate any advice you can give me.

Thank you for your time,

Name”

You can attach your resume to this email if you feel comfortable-not to find a job- but to give more context for your background and to see if there’s any advice you can get to improve your resume.

Typically, these interviews will happen in the office, however they can happen in places such as coffee shops as well. It will depend on the interviewer’s schedule. Keep in mind, as well, that if the interviewer is too busy to meet in person you can also ask to do this via phone, email or skype. It might be best to include these options right away depending on how busy the interviewer could be. This is up to you and your comfort level.

Remember some people won’t be able to do an interview with you due to various reasons. Some will not respond at all and some will respond to say they are unable to do so. Respond gracefully.

When someone doesn’t respond, it’s OK to send 1 or 2 more emails requesting an interview as the email could have been lost. Make sure to wait a week in between each request. If, however, you still don’t hear back, it’s time to stop as the person is unable to meet for an interview at this time.

Before you meet with anyone you need to prepare your questions. You are expected to lead the interview so you are in charge of the questions you’ll be asking. It is best to come up with a list of questions in advance and be prepared to write notes. Remember this is not a job interview and you are not trying to get a job. You are here to get advice, knowledge and expand your network. Do your research on the field, company and if your interviewer has a LinkedIn it would be a good idea to look through that as well. Make sure to also print your resume and ask if there is anything you can do to improve.

Please see resources below for more ideas on what kind of questions to ask.

Once you have done the interview you will want to send a thank you email to show you appreciate their help. You may also want to stay in touch. This can be tricky as you don’t want to take up their time too much. Try connecting with them on LinkedIn. As well in your follow-up you can always ask if you can stay in touch and ask the occasional question when needed. Do keep in mind however that people can be busy and will not always be able to respond right away, so be patient. 

Another thing to keep in mind is if you ever do apply to a job at that company you can also reach out to your informational interviewer to let them know and to thank them for their help.

Informational interviews can be valuable tools in your job search. Good luck!

Resources to Get Started

Prepared by: Kristy-Lu Desrosiers, JSS Facilitator, Ontario