6 Critical Tips for Informational Interviews

Interview at a job fair.

Before you print your resumes and fill out online applications, there's an important step most job seekers miss: doing informational interviews.

The informational interview is not a first date, job interview or media query. Informational Interviews are meetings you initiate with people to inquire about and extract data, insight and information about a company, career or industry you are interested in pursuing.

An informational interview helps you answer questions, such as:

  • What would it be like to work for (insert company name)?
  • What does a day in the life of a (insert job title) look like?
  • What type of employees does (insert company name) hire?
  • What does it take to be successful in (insert industry name)?

How to Do an Informational Interview

Coming from a military culture, it might feel intimidating to ask someone to help you in this way. Yet professionals often feel honored and flattered to give you the time and insight to help you in your career.

Here are the steps to doing a successful informational interview:

1. Identify an industry, then a company, you have an interest in.

Make a list of industries you'd like to learn more about working in (i.e., aerospace) and then drill and list out to companies (i.e., Ball Aerospace, Raytheon, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, etc.). Include a list of the vendors, business partners, suppliers and companies that work within your target industry.

2. Consider location.

Are you geographically limited? Often, your spouse and family play a big role in where you will pursue a career, post military. If you are limited by travel, shorten your lists to companies and people who you could get to easily for a meeting, or pursue informational interviews by phone only.

3. Check your network -- military and civilian.

When you have your lists together, start cross-referencing who you want to know with who you already know. Look through your online contacts (in LinkedIn and Facebook) and your personal contact list and see who you know who can help you get connections into the company or individual you're targeting.

4. Do your homework.

Before you ask for the interview, research the company, industry and people who work there. What are they passionate about? Who is their competition? Research the person you'd like to do the informational interview with, so you can find common areas of interest.

5. Send an inquiry.

By email or telephone, contact the person you would like to interview. If you have a mutual connection, reference that in your initial contact. State that you are interested in learning about their company or industry, and be clear that you are not looking for a job interview.

When you ask for your informational interview, ask for a meeting (in person or by phone) that is for a specific amount of time -- 20 or 30 minutes. This sets the expectation that the meeting will be focused.

Reference your military background and career goals. Mention that meeting with them will greatly enhance your ability to make informed career decisions about your career.

6. Prepare.

Prior to the meeting, have your questions ready. Your goal is to learn all you can about the person's job, career path, industry goals, company challenges and opportunities, etc., so you'll need to be focused.

Consider asking:

How did you get into this job?

Where do you see the industry going in the next 10 years?

What do you see as the best opportunities for someone like me, right out of the military with a skill and passion for the industry, but limited experience?

While you are asking questions, be prepared to deviate from your agenda if the person you're meeting with offers something you hadn't considered. This happens often.

When setting up the meeting, you asked for a specific amount of time. In the meeting, you must stick to that time contract. If you've asked for 20 minutes, then at 15 minutes into the meeting, you should say, "I see we have five minutes left. I would like to ask you about ..." This shows that you are respectful of their time and take time seriously. If they give you permission to go over the time limit, that's fine.

This is the most important rule. Since you are there for an informational meeting, you cannot -- under any situation -- use the meeting as an opportunity to sell yourself as a job candidate. If the person you're meeting with suspects you are hitting them up for a job, you will damage the relationship. You agreed in advance that you were not pitching for a job interview.

Always follow up with a handwritten thank-you note, acknowledging that the person you met with took time out of their busy schedule to share their opinions and insights.

Informational interviews provide you with the opportunity to hear firsthand about someone's experience and insights. If you conduct informational interviews correctly, you end up with a wealth of insights and knowledge, as well as new (and influential) networking contacts who will likely feel interested and vested in your career success.

The Next Step: Find the Right Veteran Job

Whether you want to polish up your resume, find veteran job fairs in your area, or connect with employers looking to hire veterans, Military.com can help. Sign up for a free Military.com membership to have job postings, guides and advice, and more delivered directly to your inbox.

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