Mastering the Informational Interview

NYT published a blog post by Marci Alboher about how to nail an informational interview. Since I am meeting with people to informationally interview them, I checked it out. How should I prepare for interviews and make the most of the time spent with people? Below are some excerpts from the super helpful blog:

Basic considerations: 
1. The other person is doing you a favor, so it should be about what’s convenient for the interviewer, not you. Follow his or her lead as to whether meetings will be in person or by phone.
2. These meetings are not about asking for job leads; the point is to learn something.
3. Think about informational interviews as a way to build a relationship and expand your network, not as a way to get a job.
4. Wait for the right time. So often we get a number and feel as if we should call immediately. But if you’re not ready, you may bungle a meeting. Why wouldn’t you be ready? When you’re overextended and it’s hard to find time on your calendar or if you haven’t done enough research about the industry or the company where the person works.
5. Don’t overstay your welcome. It’s always better to signal the meeting is ending and let the other person say he or she is open to continuing the discussion.

  • Be respectful. People are busy.  
  • Assume that a 20min phone call or a 30min meeting is a reasonable request.
  • Do your homework and learn about the person you’re meeting.
  • Know what you want and plan an agenda. 

Questions you can ask:
1. Can you tell me how you got to this position?
2. What do you like most about what you do, and what would you change if you could?
3. How do people break into this field?
4. What are the types of jobs that exist where you work and in the industry in general?
5. Where would you suggest a person investigate if the person were particularly skilled at (fill in the blank — quantitative thinking, communications, writing, advocacy)?
6. What does a typical career path look like in your industry?
7. What are some of the biggest challenges facing your company and your industry today?
8. Are there any professional or trade associations I should connect with?
9. What do you read — in print and online — to keep up with developments in your field?
10. How do you see your industry changing in the next 10 years?
11. If you were just getting involved now, where would you put yourself?
12. What’s a typical day like for you?
13. What’s unique or differentiating about your company?
14. How has writing a book (starting a blog, running a company, etc.) differed from your expectations? What have been the greatest moments and biggest challenges?

Follow up.
If you said you’d send an article, contact someone or do something, make sure to do what you said you would. If you want to continue the relationship, figure out how to stay in touch. If there was no chemistry, move on.