What I Learned Conducting an Informational Interview

Jess' Informational Interview
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She wipes her sweating palms on her pantyhose as she takes a seat on the Muni bus. The styled mannequins of Forever 21 seem to mock her “business casual” navy dress and flats. She swallows hard and reaches a trembling hand up to brush a strand of hair that has come loose from her braid.

Her beating heart thunders in her ears, deep and echoing. The tires on the pavement are too rough and a shiver shoots through her spine. There’s no going back.

No, this is not a the first scene in a horror movie. This is a description of Jessica Moore’s journey to her very first informational interview.

We catch up with her to find out how she prepared, what her techniques are for dealing with nerves, and why she recommends conducting an informational interview whether you’re job searching or not.

Why did you want to conduct this informational interview?

I was looking for guidance in the field of interaction design. I wanted to expand my knowledge of the field and talk to a more experienced designer.

How did you choose who you wanted to talk to?

His company is one of the leading interaction design firms. They focus a lot of their efforts on making their products based on users’ emotions. I think that building something to evoke a reaction is something that’s really important when designing.

What was the process like reaching out to him?

I found him through a mutual connection on LinkedIn. I got an introduction from that friend. She emailed the two of us, gave a little background on each of us, and suggested that we talk.

I then responded to that email and asked if he’d be interested in meeting up to talk about his experiences as a product designer. He responded positively and we set up a date and time to talk.

How did you prepare?

I read the AfterCollege Blog post about conducting an informational interview… like three times.

I stalked his company’s website, his company’s portfolio, and all of the blogs associated with the company. Then I looked at his Linkedin page, his blogs, and his portfolio.

Through that research, I was able to gather a better sense of what the company was all about. When I was thinking of questions to ask,  I made sure I chose ones that could not be answered by just reading the website. I also focused my questions on information I’d found on the website.

I wrote out a whole bunch of questions and then put them in order of what would be most productive and create the most natural flow of conversation; one question led to the next.

I also bought pantyhose for my business casual (plus one) outfit which was recommended in the AfterCollege Blog post.

Have you ever conducted an informational interview before?

No, I have not.

How were you feeling when you went to the informational interview? 

I was pretty much terrified and shaking.

What did you do to calm your nerves?

I tried to mimic his behaviors to make it more of a casual and comfortable situation. I know this is a technique that helps when talking to people and it helped calm me down.

I also made small talk with a woman on the way there. She was lost on Muni and it helped to give her directions because I felt confident helping her. Then she wished me good luck and that helped, too.

Also when we were getting coffee in the kitchen, I noticed that his company used the same mugs as we do at AfterCollege. For some reason this made me feel more comfortable, haha.

My advice for others is to just prepare. Stalk everything. Knowing his background and the background of the company allowed me to have specific questions based on what I learned.

For example, I knew he got into product design in college so instead of asking when he started, I asked why / how. Having these questions (which I knew I couldn’t find on the internet)  helped calm my nerves.

[Editor’s note: Katherine Schwarzenegger gives similar advice about calming nerves. Read more about her interview techniques here.]

What’s one thing you learned from this informational interview?

I got a better idea of the opportunities there are for interaction designers. I got to hear about the difference between working for a firm as opposed to being an in-house designer. At a design firm you get to work on a variety of products whereas in-house you are working on the same product.

What advice do you have for students or recent graduates about conducting informational interviews?

It’s okay to look up (Google) questions to ask for an informational interview. I did. But then go through and see what actually applies to the field you’re interviewing the person about. Be careful about picking and choosing what kind of questions you want to ask.

My other advice for informational interviews? Do it. Because…

A. You get a better idea of what you’re signing up for

B. You get an inside view of what your life could potentially be like

C. You’ll have a contact in the company. Whether you’re looking for a job or not, it’s good to expand your network.

Oh, and use the bathroom beforehand.

Homework time! Jessica was introduced to this interaction design professional through a mutual friend. Take some time to explore your connections. It’s made easier with LinkedIn where you can find second-degree connections just by searching your field. But don’t discount asking around in person. You never know who a friend of a friend might be.

Then, research everything you can about the person and their company. Like Jessica says, you don’t want to ask any questions that you could have easily found via the company’s website. Using your research, tailor each question to that specific person.

P.S. Want to read a little more about Jessica and what she does as an interaction designer? Check out our post all about her job here at AfterCollege.

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