We love an informative interview here at Levo for many reasons: they provide a great opportunity to get advice from someone you admire, expand your network of contacts, and make a good impression on someone who could potentially hire you in the future. (All summer interns should consider scheduling at least one before their internship ends.)
If you haven’t done informational interviewing before, it can be tough to know if you’re doing it correctly. To help ensure that you make a great impression, we’ve created this guide with the assistance of Hallie Crawford and Maggie Mistal—both certified career coaches.
How to Make the Request
Setting up an informational interview can be really intimidating. You’re likely trying to chat with someone whose career path you admire, and it’s easy to think of a worst-case scenario in which you make a big mistake in your email/annoy your potential interviewee/get rejected.
[Related: Your Guide to Top Job Interview Questions and Answers]
Asking for help can be difficult, but it’s made easier when you reach out to a “warm” contact. A warm contact is anyone that you have some sort of connection to— however distant that may be. This could include someone who knows someone you know, an alum from your college, or even somebody you’ve previously connected with on social media. Utilize all the resources at your disposal, including Levo.com “Contact people you know first, then branch out beyond that and find people to talk to through friends, family, and former co-workers, as well as through Linkedin or your alumni association,” Crawford says.
According to Mistal, it is also crucial to get rid of any “I”s from your email request. You want to let your potential interviewee comprehend precisely why she is the ideal person for you to talk to—not why you would gain from talking with her. “It’s like if you met somebody at a networking event and they didn’t even say, ‘Hi, what’s your name?’ They just started launching into who they are,” Mistal says. “You’d think, ‘This is weird.’ So what I always tell people is you’ve got to focus on the person you’re talking to. It’s got to be about them first.”
[Related: 5 Tips for Writing the Perfect Networking Email]
Where to Meet
You’ve done it! Your informational interviewee has accepted your request to meet. Now comes the hard part: agreeing on a location. With so many options, it can be tough to decide where to meet. Should you go to your interviewee’s office? Or would everyone prefer a phone call? Here are some things to consider when choosing a meeting spot.
The best way to find the right answer is to give your interviewee a choice and let her pick what works best for her. “Offering a meal or coffee is nice because you’re giving something in return to them for their time,” Crawford says. “But if they prefer in their office or over the phone, go with what they are comfortable with.”
And if you’ll be meeting outside the office? Be sure to bring your wallet. “If you’re going to have a lunch conversation, you should expect to pay,” Mistal says. Do keep in mind that if the person you’re meeting will most likely force your hand to let them pay, but simply offering will put you in their good graces.
How to Prepare
Before you meet with your interviewee, it is essential that you do some research about them. With the internet, there is a vast amount of information available to help direct your questions toward specific areas in your career field- making you look more professional overall.
“From an etiquette standpoint, I think it makes a very positive impression when you’ve done a bit of homework on this person. Look at their LinkedIn profile, perhaps read some of their tweets, or see if they’ve blogged anything,” Mistal says. “I think when you do your homework on a person and understand a bit more about them, it just shows that you’re a caring, genuine individual.”
[Related: 10 Intelligent Questions to Ask on an Informational Interview]
What to Wear
Contrary to popular belief, the key to looking your best during an informational interview is not sticking out like a sore thumb. “You want to match the kind of environment that your informational interview is going to be taking place in,” Mistal says. “With that said, make sure that you look professional no matter what the environment is.”
If you’re ever unsure, it is better to dress up than to dress down. “Err on the side of more formal and professional than too casual,” Crawford says. “This person, or someone they know, could end up offering you a job so you need to make a very positive impression on them just like you want to for anyone else who might hire you.”
[Related: Exactly What to Wear (and What Not to Wear) to an Interview]
How to Follow Up
Crawford recommends taking the time to ask your interviewee how you can help her and then follow through after the interview. “Even if you aren’t sure you have anything to offer them, ask the question. It’s imperative to let them know you not only value their time, but you also want to help them in return in any way you can,” she says. A thank you note following an interview is a great way to show your appreciation.