Making the Most of an Informational Interview

Posted on April 15, 2021

Making the most of an informational interview header with image.

If you’ve applied to be matched with a local government professional through ELGL’s information interview program, congratulations! You’ve already cleared the biggest hurdle towards a great informational interview. Getting the match is only half the equation, however—you’ll want to do some prep to make the most of the opportunity!

The beautiful thing about informational interviews is they’re just that—informational. There isn’t a job on the line, so you can feel comfortable knowing that you aren’t walking into a high-stakes situation. That said, don’t lose sight of the interview part. This is your chance to get a peek under the hood of your prospective career, and more importantly begin building your network.

Before the Interview

Polish your elevator pitch. Make sure you’re ready to go with a brief introduction to who you are and why you’re interested in speaking with your interviewee. You’re not there to sell yourself, but they’ll want to know who you are! You don’t waste precious time stumbling through a ton of background information. Decide ahead of time on the salient points to start out with and practice saying it out loud a few times.

Learn a little more about who you’re meeting and their organization. Check their website for a community profile and other general information. A deep dive is not required, but if you go into the meeting with a basic understanding of the community they’re coming from you can spend more time on more interesting topics. Connect on LinkedIn ahead of time—you may find yourself with something in common that you can use as a starting point.

During the Interview

Someone has agreed to give you one of their most precious resources: time. Show up knowing that this is a gift, and be ready to make the most of it. A great interview can look like a lot of things, here’s a sure fire way to have a bad one: both of you show up (or log on). You exchange greetings, and then you sit back waiting for them to talk at you. Alternately, you dominate the conversation.

Don’t ask for a job. It’s awkward to put someone in that position and you’ll come across as out of touch. A better question would be asking something like “how can I best prepare myself to enter the workforce?”

Which brings us to the next point: have some questions ready to go. You may find that the conversation is free-flowing and you don’t end up needing them, and that’s fine! But if you hit a lull, you’ll have something ready. A few to consider asking:

  • How did you get started in local government (a great warm-up question!)
  • What is the most rewarding thing about your job? The most challenging?
  • How do you see this field changing in the future?
  • What do you think makes for a great government employer? What types of things should I keep an eye out for that might not be obvious?
  • What knowledge/skills/abilities are most important for 21st century local government leadership?
  • Are there any courses or training that you wish you had taken advantage of when you were a student?
  • What’s a typical “day in the life” in your job?

End on time. If you’re someone who loses track of time easily, maybe set yourself a little alert for 5 or 10 minutes before you need to wrap up. Do a quick check-in with yourself to make sure you’ve covered the things that are most important to you before you need to wrap up.

After the Interview

Send a thank you note shortly after your meeting. Make it sincere and specific. After that, stay in touch. If the person you interviewed said something that you end up using to land a job, send another thank you note and let them know. Guaranteed it’ll make their day!

Even if you aren’t necessarily looking to stay in the region, make a concerted effort to maintain that relationship. Reach out once a year with a short email to say “hey!” and let them know what you’re up to. It costs you nothing and you never know when the connection will come in handy for either of you. Local government is a far smaller world than you expect!


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