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Conducting a Productive Informational Interview


The informational interview can be a valuable tool to help you navigate the political waters of an organization or put you on the right road toward career progression. Informational interviewing is also a great developmental tool for anyone interested in learning more about an organization, occupation, or industry. Moreover, informational interviewing provides an excellent opportunity to expand professional networks by strategically selecting the right people to interview while gaining increased visibility within the organization.  Conducting an informational interview is not difficult provided that the preparation of questions and selection of a professional to be interviewed are well thought out and carefully planned.  The following are some tips to help you get the most out of your informational interview:

Focus on a topic of discussion. The first step in the process is to pinpoint exactly what information you want to obtain (i.e. career options, leadership strategies, unwritten rules of the organization, etc.). Deciding on your focus of inquiry will better prepare you for the subsequent steps in the process. 

Select the candidate. The second step in the process is to identify the person within the organization who is in the best position to share that information and give you the answers that you need (your mentor can oftentimes guide you to the appropriate professional). Consider those members of the organization who have the skill set needed to most effectively perform their job.  For example, you will most likely want to go to a project manager for information about managing a complex project or program just as you would go to a senior employee for notes on navigating the political waters of the organization.  

Create a list of questions. The third phase of the interview preparation process is to carefully and thoughtfully create a list of questions that you would like to have answered. It is helpful to research the individual with whom you will conduct the interview, including what they do and how you can benefit from talking with them about the organization.  The more you know about what your interviewee does, the more confident you will be during the informational interview. 

Share gratitude. The final phase of the process should include an expression of gratitude. Be sure to follow up with a handwritten thank you note expressing your appreciation for their time and willingness to share their wisdom of experience.  Also, if you find yourself applying some of their advice or insights gained from the interview, be sure to send them an update on how you have taken their advice to heart and have even applied it in your day-to-day work environment.

ASK A MENTOR

Informational interviews can provide the perfect opportunity for mentorees to learn how to become a more valuable asset to the organization as well as strategically map out their career track.  Through an open and honest exploration of the organization, these interviews will also help managers and executives get to know those people who want to advance their careers and instill in them the necessary skills and political savvy to succeed.  When you are ready to embark on an informational interview it will be good to get some advice and interviewing tips from your mentor’s perspective:

§  Have you ever conducted an informational interview? 

§  What do you consider to be the do’s and don’ts based on the culture of our organization?

§  Are there specific stakeholders in the organization that  I should be connecting with?

§  Can you assist in getting an appointment to meet with them? 

§  Are there any contacts in other related fields or industries who I should try to connect with?

§  Will you help me develop a list of informational interview questions?  Here are a few to get us started: 

o   What education or technical background is required for your position?

o   How were you selected for your current position?

o   What positions have you held in the past?

o   What professional organizations do you belong to and what ones do you recommend?

o   What has been your most valuable lesson learned within the organization?

o   What are some of the pitfalls that you see others make?

o   What do you see as future trends for both the industry and the organization?

o   What does your typical day look like?

o   What or who are the obstacles?

o   Do you recommend anyone else who may be beneficial?