The How-To’s of Interviews

So, you’ve decided what you want to do with your degree. Great! However, you have no idea how to get there. Not great. Enter your peace-of-mind saver, the informational interview. Here are five tips to nail it.

A Black woman and a White woman talking.
Two women talking at a table. Photo Credit: Christina via Unsplash

Respect the other person’s time.

Let’s start with something that you probably know already. If you’re asking someone to meet with you, you should respect that they’re doing you a favor. Arrive to the meeting on time, be polite, and use active listening skills. Your interviewee likely has plenty of other responsibilities to get to, so if they’re going to take time for you, show them that you value that time.

Ask lots of questions.

We’ve covered the interview part of informational interview, but the information is the most important. Make sure to ask open-ended questions and take notes if you feel like you’ll need them. You can start with basic questions:

“Why did you enter this field?”

“What do you (dis)like about your job/graduate program/etc.?”

“What does a typical day look like for you?”

“If you could start over, what would you do differently?”

Then, build from there. If you feel the interview wrapping up, try asking, “Is there anything that you’d like to add before I go?” I love this question because it gives the interviewee the opportunity to discuss what they consider important, and it may be something you never considered.

A glowing question mark against a black wall.
A neon question mark. Photo Credit: Emily Morter via Unsplash

Build rapport.

People are more than their career prospects. If a common hobby or brief memory naturally comes up, it can help to build rapport between you and your interviewee. That said, the operative word is “brief.” Even if it’s so cool that you both like the same sports team, you didn’t set up this meeting just to talk about basketball. Remember to get back on track.

Pick up a business card.

Informational interviews are great opportunities for networking. Make sure to capitalize on that and ask for a business card as the interview ends. These are great to have if you realize that you have more questions. It’s also important to get the person’s email address because you should always…

Send a thank-you email afterward.

Of course, you already thanked the interviewee in person as you were leaving, but it’s polite to send a follow-up email, too. It doesn’t need to be long. I’ve been using Kelly Williams Brown’s formula for thank-you notes for years:

  1. Start with “you,” if possible. (“You were so helpful during our interview today!”).
  2. Give a few specific examples of what you appreciated.
  3. Tell the person how you benefitted. (“I feel more confident now that we’ve talked.”)
  4. End with a simple thank you.
A person holding a black card that says "thanks" in white letters.
A person holing a card with “thanks” written on it. Photo Credit: Manuel Cosentino via Unsplash

That’s all I have. Now, go out and learn something! If you want more advice about interviews, applications, or responsibility in general, check out Adulting: How to Become a Grown-Up in 535 Easy(ish) Steps by Kelly Williams Brown. I cannot recommend this book enough. Good luck!

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