The etiquette of the informational interview can be a little confusing. They’re not just coffee with a friend, and they’re not an actual interview, so what to do?
The informational interview is definitely its own unique thing, but the good news is that it’s informal enough that the rules are pretty simple:
1. Be respectful of the other person’s time. This means you’ll offer to talk whenever is convenient for the person you’re interviewing, and that you’ll pay attention to not going over 30 minutes of time without the other person’s approval. In more normal times, when we’re able to meet safely in places like coffee shops, it also means agreeing to a place near the other person’s work, or even at their work, if that’s what’s best for them.
2. Have questions prepared so you can get started quickly. Write down the things you really want to know, and get to those questions as soon as you’ve finished the polite small talk.
3. Thank them for their time, at the beginning of the conversation, at the end, and after the fact. If you meet in person, buy your interviewee a coffee or tea.
4. Send your info interviewee a small token of thanks after the fact—a gift card to a local independent coffee shop is a lovely gesture, especially now, as independent businesses are struggling to stay afloat.
5. Take notes. What these folks are telling you will be important, and you will want to capture as much of it as you can. They may also give you names of other people to contact, making your note-taking even more important. I’m a fan of pen and paper, but if you prefer a laptop or phone, that’s okay as well. Just be sure you make it clear you’re taking notes if you choose your phone!
6. Ask if you can reach out again if you have more questions. If you’re anything like me, you’ll think of several things you wanted to ask, but only when you’re halfway home.
7. Relax and be your regular gracious self. You’re asking for information, not trade secrets!