8 Tips on Informational Interviews from UT Austin McCombs School of Business Student Jordan Seibert

You spend your college years taking classes, writing papers, and studying for exams. But Jordan Seibert, a sophomore finance major at UT Austin McCombs School of Business, wants to remind you

What you do in class isn’t always what’s being applied in real life.

That’s where informational interviews come in.

Jordan was required to do three informational interviews for BA101, her entry-level business class, but since completing them, she’s become an informal spokesperson for their effectiveness. 

“Informational interviews help you start building your network, get connected with people, and figure out what people are actually doing out in the workforce,” she says. “The interviews opened my eyes to roles I didn’t even know existed, while also making my goals more concrete,” she said. 

What about tangible results? Although Jordan is not actively pursuing an internship, these informational interviews gave her insight into where she could intern, what kinds of positions might suit her, and how she could make meaningful connections in the industry.

Jordan shared some tips on how to navigate the informational interview process. Take a look.

8 Tips for Navigating Informational Interviews

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1. Use the resources you have. Jordan’s recommended resource? Your parents. And not just because it’s easy. Jordan emphasizes that “it’s always more comfortable to meet with someone who knows you, even if it’s indirectly.” The familial connection creates a baseline comfort level and provides obvious initial talking points. Plus, your parents have probably gushed about you, so you start off on the right foot.

2. Interview a variety of people. Interviewing professionals in various phases of their career—from entry-level to very senior—will offer different perspectives on the industry. The junior employees can provide insight into current entry-level work, while the senior employees can offer guidance on how to evolve your career over time. Jordan found the latter to be the most helpful, but she recognizes that it will be different for each student: “Because I’m not actively pursuing an internship, I was hoping to get a more long-term vision for myself: where I’ll start and how I might work my way up.”

3. Let them choose the location. Where to meet? Instead of suggesting a location, Jordan recommends telling the interviewee that you’d be happy to meet wherever is convenient for them. They’re doing you a favor, so it’s best to be flexible. Jordan met two of her interviewees in coffee shops and one at the person’s office. 

4. Show up early. Arriving early indicates that you’re conscientious and respectful of the person’s time, but Jordan adds that it also lowered her stress level. If she were rushing to get there, worrying about making it on time, she wouldn’t have been as poised when the interview started. Instead, she was calm and collected and ready to go.

5. Remember that the interviewees want to be there. “It’s always nerve-racking to reach out,” says Jordan. “But once you do make contact, they’re always so pleased to meet up and share their knowledge.” If they didn’t want to be there, they would have declined the interview. But people love talking about themselves and reminiscing about how they got to where they are. Remembering that they are excited about the conversation should help you conquer any potential anxiety.

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6. Be prepared. It’s one thing to skim the person’s LinkedIn profile; it’s another to come prepared with a list of questions that you’ve committed to memory. That’s what Jordan did: “Knowing what you want to ask and what you want to get from it will really help direct the conversation and guide the conversation,” she says. The question she thought revealed the most helpful information was “What is a typical day like for you?” A job might seem sparkly, but getting first-hand knowledge of what someone’s day-to-day work looks like will help you figure out if it’s something you want to spend 40—or in the finance industry, up to 100—hours a week doing. 

7. Be flexible. Coming in with a list of questions is important, but don’t limit yourself. If the conversation goes in a different direction, go with the flow. For example, Jordan ended up asking one of her interviewees about balancing work with family, something she hadn’t considered before going into the interview. In the end, she felt that this impromptu question resulted in the “rawest” answer of the whole conversation. Generally, the interviews offered her not only professional advice, but life advice as well. “For almost all of them, life turned out being different from what they expected,” she says. 

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8. Write a thank-you note. Notice that we didn’t say thank-you email. Jordan suggests sending a handwritten thank-you note to go above and beyond in showing your appreciation. In the notes she wrote, Jordan expressed her gratitude, and when it was applicable, added that she “would like to keep in touch and continue to talk about opportunities.” Keeping doors open is key.