Informational interviews also known as coffee chats are career conversations that allow you to learn more about a career path and/or organization. During these conversations, you may also have the opportunity to make a positive impression as well as share your experiences and accomplishments. As such, informational interviews are great for career exploration, networking, and even job hunting.
Professionals are busy people, so informational interviews normally last only about 15-30 minutes. You can approach a variety of professionals for these interviews, including industry experts, current practitioners, etc.
I have never heard of informational interviews before. Do people really do it in the field of Early Childhood Studies?
Absolutely! While some professional fields may be more familiar with the concept than others, informational interviewing is a legitimate tool for career exploration and relationship building. Just take the first step to initiate contact, and remember that there is no harm in asking.
- Ask yourself what you are interested in learning more about (e.g. a particular occupation or company).
- Identify individual(s) who can tell you more about that occupation or company. (See “How do I find potential interviewees?” for tips.)
- Introduce yourself to the individual, and mention how you found their contact information and what you want to ask them about; then request a virtual or in-person meeting. (See “How do I introduce myself?” for tips.)
- Research the company and/or the individual’s career path to generate well-researched questions for the interview: you have limited time with this person so be prepared.
- Practice articulating your own skills and accomplishments — there may well be opportunities for you to tell this individual a bit about yourself.
- Contact the person the day before the conversation to confirm your meeting time.
- Dress appropriately (business-formal or business-casual), be on time, and respect the time limit of the informational interview; always remain professional.
- Thank the person for their time with a follow-up email within 24 hours of the conversation, maintain and nurture the connection, and schedule a follow-up meeting if appropriate.
- Evaluate the information you have gathered (e.g. are you still interested in this occupation/company?) and your approach at the interview (e.g. are there questions that you can ask in future interviews?). Develop an action plan of next steps.
You can always start by approaching people in your existing personal and professional networks (e.g. professors, instructors, field education coordinators, student groups, alumni, friends and family, etc.) to see if they can answer your questions, or introduce you to someone who can.
There are social media platforms that can connect you to an exciting world of professionals from diverse fields and disciplines. LinkedIn, external link, opens in new window is just one example. You can also identify organizations and individuals in your field for informational interviews through industry directories and professional associations, for example, the College of Early Childhood Educators, external link, opens in new window and College of Audiologists and Speech-Language Pathologists of Ontario, external link, opens in new window.
Even job boards can help you identify companies of which you were not previously aware. From there, you can dig a little deeper by visiting each organization’s website to see if you can find the contact information of the central office or individual staff members.
As you can see, finding potential interviewees for informational interviews requires some investigative work. It’s the perfect opportunity to put the research skills you gained through academic work to use!
You can request for an informational interview in person, via email and direct message on social media platforms, or by phone. Sometimes, a combination of different communication channels is required (e.g. following up by email after initially asking someone in person or virtually for an informational interview at a networking event).
You should always be open and upfront about why you want to conduct an informational interview with this individual. Keep in mind, you should personalize the notes to fit your own voice. This will help your personality come through. Just remember to be courteous and professional in all your communications.
For example, “Dear Leanne, It was so great speaking with you at the Teaching Pathways Event. I found the panel enlightening, full of energy and so engaging with us all. Leanne, you have such an interesting Early Childhood Studies (ECS) background with experience in a variety of different spaces. I would love to get your advice on how I can learn more about the educational sector. Would you have 15-20 minutes to virtually meet with me? I would be happy to speak with you at a date and time convenient for you. Kind regards, Shankavi Sivananthan.”
As with any networking effort, it is perfectly natural that some people will turn down your request for an informational interview. Don’t be discouraged, and be reassured that there are many others who will be willing and available to help you out by answering your questions.
If your request for an informational interview is rejected, politely thank the person for taking the time to respond to you. If it is appropriate, you can also ask them if they could recommend someone else to whom you could speak with.
What questions you ask during informational interviews will really depend on what you want to learn more about. The key to generating excellent questions is to be well-researched and clear, but here are some examples of general questions to consider:
About the Occupation:
- What are the most rewarding/challenging things about your job?
- What are some industry trends that you’re keeping an eye on?
- How does your job contribute to your organization’s overall goals or mission?
About the Company:
- How would you describe the culture and environment of your organization?
- How does your organization support its employees’ work-life balance?
- What are some skills/qualities that your organization values in its employees?
About the Individual You Are Interviewing:
- What kind of education and training did you receive to enter this field?
- Can you tell me a bit about your own professional journey/transitions, and how you got to where you are today?
- What advice do you have for a student/recent graduate who is looking to enter this field/join this company?
Informational interviews are not job interviews. Asking for a job during an informational interview is like asking someone you just met whether they could help you move to a new home — you probably don’t know that person well enough to be asking for such a big favour yet.
Before someone feels comfortable enough to offer or recommend you for a position, they need to know and trust you. This kind of relationship building takes time, but informational interviewing is a great first step to introduce yourself to others and start cultivating these professional relationships to generate or learn of job leads.