Job Search: How to tank an informational interview in 5 easy steps

I have a couple of friends who are in the generosity business. They conduct informational interviews with students and young professionals who are in the job hunt. Their observations were worth sharing.

Informational interviews are not job interviews. They are investigative opportunities for you to derive information about a job, company, industry,  career space or person. They are led by you as the interviewer. The purpose is to help you garner information and exposure to support your job search strategy.

My friends felt that about 20% of the time, job seekers came in prepared and they had good conversations. For the other 80%, this one’s for you. Here are five easy ways to screw up an informational interview.

1. Don’t take an informational interview seriously.

Your parents have this friend in the corporate real estate business and they insist you go talk to him. You go. Reluctantly. And with an eye-roll.

It may not be a job interview, but you should approach it as you were one. Prepare and bring your best game to the conversation. Wouldn’t you like to leave a memorable impression on them? In a positive way, of course.

Remedy: EVERY conversation is an opportunity to market yourself. Do not minimize the potential of an informational interview. Even if your parents are “making you” go meet this friend of theirs, treat it as a serious job search endeavor and show up as a professional.

Know your contact’s name, role and title. Dress and act appropriately. Challenge yourself to ask good questions, and learn something.

2. Don’t respect the other person’s time.

Show up late. Expect more time than you’ve been allowed. This shows you have no respect for the other person’s time. It also shows you can’t show up on time and can’t manage conversation to a time frame. Those are job skills that might come in handy some day.

When someone gives you their time, they are giving you the most precious resource they have. They don’t get those minutes back. Make the time meaningful for you AND them. 

Remedy: Show up 5 to 10 minutes early, card in hand. Bring a notebook and be prepared to take notes. Turn off your mobile. Confirm the amount of time the person has available for you. Start wrapping the conversation up 5 minutes before the hard stop.

3. Don’t do any research.

One PR exec said he was amazed at how unprepared many young professionals were. He said it was like they sat there waiting for him to “spoon feed them information.”

They bring no questions, demonstrate no curiosity, and have done no research.  One student asked who his big PR clients were; information that was easily found on the exec’s website!

Remedy: Do your research on the person, the company, the industry and the news. Scrutinize the web site and social media streams. See what’s going on inside and outside that organization.

Develop 5 to 7 good questions for your interview. As well, you can research your contact’s career and ask about the choices he or she made on their  journey.

For an added bonus, send your contact the primary questions you’ll want to discuss when you confirm the appointment. This helps them understand what you are looking for, and prepares them for the conversation. (Also, it’s a “wow.”)

4. Expect a job to be handed to you.

One executive said some grads come in expecting to be handed a job. Perhaps they found him through an alumni or parent connection.  At any level that’s a pretty naive perspective. Jobs aren’t handed out. You compete for them.

One of the ways you can earn them is by preparing and conducting great informational interviews. Leave a strong impression in your interviewee’s mind!

Remedy: Set appropriate expectations and intentions before you go to the interview. Share these with the interviewee when you arrive. This is YOUR conversation to design and conduct!

Identify 3 to 5 desired outcomes for the conversation.

  • What do you want to know?
  • Do you want to ask for additional introductions to other professionals?
  • What kind of impression do you want to leave?

Create a conversation that yield meaningful information and leave a good impression.

5. Don’t thank them or follow-up.

When someone gives you their time and it’s not acknowledged, it’s just rude. When they send you off with suggestions for action, and they never hear back, it shows poor follow-up skills on your part.

Remedy: It is so easy to leave a positive, memorable impression. Sending a hand written professional thank you note is one of them. Do that as soon as you return from your appointment.

Also, follow-up. If your contact introduces you to others, or gives you specific leads to track down in your job search, let them know how things turned out. This keeps you in their active network and visible as a professional who follows up. It demonstrates their time was well spent.

Informational interviews can be a lucrative way to build your network, and expand your job search investigation. But if you aren’t serious about it, and don’t want to do the pre-work, don’t go in unprepared. You’ll just waste your connection’s time, and yours.

Have you done any informational interviews? What did you do to make them work for you AND your contact?  Leave a comment below!


Posted in: Blog, Interview, Job search, Your Job Search

Leave a Comment: (4) →


  1. Chelsea M August 24, 2012

    These are really great tips! I hardly ever see real guidelines about informational interviews online but I think they are super helpful for meeting people, practicing interview skills and talking about yourself and learning about different industries.

    I think a lot of people (myself included especially) could also benefit from tips on staying in touch with the people you meet, just as an idea for another post!

    • Lea McLeod August 24, 2012

      Hi Chelsea, thanks for reading, and for the feedback! You are right about the benefits of informational interviews. I love the idea for a follow up post on easy ways to stay in touch. I’ve got that on my list, in fact I was just having a conversation about that very topic with someone this afternoon.

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