Informational interviews and American style networking

Wikipedia defines informational interviews as:

a meeting in which a potential job seeker seeks advice on their career, the industry, and the corporate culture of a potential future workplace; while an employed professional learns about the job seeker and judges their professional potential and fit to the corporate culture, so building their candidate pool for future hires.

Informational interviews are not the same as job interviews. Informational interviews are different from behavioral interviews. Behavioral interviews, generally referred to as just interviews, happen after you application is selected. They are conducted by employers and hiring managers.

An informational interview is a meeting that you request. Informational interviews help you learn more about companies while building professional relationships. In American culture, it is common to ask people in companies for informational interviews. You don’t need to be introduced by others in order to ask someone for their time.

An informational interview generally last 20-30 minutes. It’s conducted by phone, virtually (i.e. Skype), or in person. The purpose of the interview is:

  • To learn valuable information from your host
  • To make a good impression so they see you’re smart and talented
  • To build a relationship with professionals who may refer you at a later date

During informational interviews you want to learn:

  • Your contact’s career path
  • How your contact got their job
  • Details about the organization/company they work for
  • Details about the job they do and the team they work for
  • Trends and ideas that are impacting the organization
  • Job search advice for students like you

An informational interview is not the time to ask for a job. This is confusing for people who are new to informational interviews. Informational interviews are used to build relationships and get information. You can’t ask for a job because it’s unlikely the person will have a job for you. Instead, your goal is to appear curious, smart, motivated and likable, so if a job that you qualify for opens up, the person can advocate for you. Building advocates on the inside of a company will help get your resume seen by the hiring manager.