An informational interview is the most valuable tool in the international student job search. If you are an international student looking for an H1B job and want to get sponsored by a company, you must spend time conducting informational interviews.

The goal of the informational interview is to:

  • learn valuable information from your host
  • make a good impression
  • make a connection that may help you later in the job search

Each informational interview is an opportunity to learn information that will help you stand out in the H1B job search. Here three things what you should learn from an informational interview:

  • How the business or organization operates – Understanding details about the business or organization helps you understand where you might fit in as an employee.
  • How you fit into this organization -Understanding the type of people work in the organization and what they look for in candidates, helps position yourself as a match for that organization.
  • The business/organization’s biggest priorities/goals – Employers hire people who will help the business reach their goals. Aligning yourself as a candidates who can support the team a goals will help you stand out.

To accomplish this, you need to ask curious questions. The questions you ask help you gain valuable information about the job search.

Informational interviews should be between 20-30 minutes. You should aim to stay within that time frame. After you introduce yourself that means you will only have the chance to ask about 4-7 questions depending on how much they answer. Do not go over the time requested. Americans are generally very time-oriented and prefer to stick to schedules.

Remember: people like to talk about themselves, so asking them about their professional life is acceptable.

Before you arrive, make a list of questions you want to ask the person you are interviewing. These questions can be about their background, their work history, or their company.

To figure out what questions you’d like to ask, consider this:

  • What information can they provide that will help you in your job search?
  • What would you like them to remember about you?

Here are some other questions that may be interesting:

Top 10 informational interview questions:

  • How did you get started in this field?
  • What is an average day like for you?
  • What’s it like to work here at (name of company)?
  • How did you end up in this job?
  • What did you study in school that has made you prepared for this job?
  • What skills are the most valuable to you in your work?
  • How did you find the job you are in now?
  • What trends do you see in this industry?
  • What skills make a candidate stand out in your team?
  • What qualities do you look for when hiring your team members?

Advanced informational interview questions

  • How would you describe the company culture?
  • What’s makes this company different from others?
  • What are some of your favorite projects that you’ve worked on in this position?
  • What qualities do your team members bring to this organization that make them super star employees?
  • What makes this company distinct from its competitors/others in this field?
  • What keeps you coming to work every day? (besides a paycheck :))

These are just a sample of questions to keep the conversation going. As conversations are fluid and unpredictable, it’s important to prepare more questions than you can ask so you can adapt if the conversation shifts.

Keep in mind, to make a good, memorable impression, you still have to engage in a conversation. Don’t just ask questions. Be flexible enough to share your ideas and thoughts on their answers. These questions should help you have a conversation. Add your thoughts when you get an answer that interests you.

Preparing for the informational interview as an international student

Just like you study before a big test, you need to study before you interview a professional contact, especially if you don’t know them. People expect that you will have a basic understanding about the company and their position before you interview them.

Being prepared means knowing the background information on the company and person you are interviewing with. It is considered unprofessional to be unprepared for an informational interview. You do not want to waste people’s time by asking “What is your role here?” or “So what does this company do?”

Do your research. To learn about a company, visit their LinkedIn page, Facebook page, or website.

Things to research:

  • What is their business purpose?
  • What are their main services or products?
  • If it’s a nonprofit, what is their mission?
  • What interests you about this company or organization?
  • Have they been in the news lately (social media is helpful for learning more about this)

For contacts, read their LinkedIn profile to learn their role in the company and the department they work.

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