10 Tips for Setting Up an Informational Interview to Get a Coding Job

By Nikhil Abraham

As a newly trained coder, especially if you have a nontraditional background, you will be working hard to develop relationships with people to get your foot in the door for a job interview. After you connect with someone, you should send two messages: you can learn quickly and you are willing to work hard.

You might meet others through multiple avenues, such as Meetup groups, introductions from friends and family, alumni, or even neighbors. But despite all these channels, you may not know someone at the company you are targeting; in those situations, an information interview is a powerful technique.

The information interview is a request to chat with someone to find out more about their employer, job, and day-to-day responsibilities. There is no expectation that the conversation will lead to a job or even an interview, but often a good conversation can lead to more conversations with relevant people.

Here are ten tips on setting up and having a good informational interview:

  • Introduce yourself: You’ll be sending a cold email when you first reach out, so quickly introduce yourself and include where you’re currently located and your background. There’s no need to be lengthy. Three to four sentences are more than enough to give a sense of who you are.

  • Ask for advice: Explain that you’re exploring the industry, want to break in, and would like advice on the industry and employers. Make it clear that you are only seeking information, and aren’t trying to press the person for a job. Suggest either a brief 20-minute phone call or a coffee chat.

  • Suggest times to meet: Every meeting requires an agreement on the date, time, and place. After you receive a positive response that the person you’re trying to connect with is open to chatting, suggest five or six times over the next five days when you’re free to meet. That way, you make it easy for the person you are connecting with to say yes or no. If none of the suggested times work, suggest five more times or ask when would be convenient to connect.

  • Scout a location: In addition to finding a good time, suggest a place to meet if you are meeting in-person. Or ask the person if he or she has a preference. You should check out the place ahead of time and make sure it has plenty of seating, is quiet enough to have a conversation, and is accessible by public transit or has parking available.

  • Send calendar invites and confirm: You did the hard work of finalizing the logistics. Confirm all the details by sending a calendar invite with the date, time, and location. Include your cell phone number in the calendar invitation. On the day of the meeting, send a quick email confirmation two hours before you are supposed to meet to make sure the time is still convenient.

  • Prepare: Before the meeting, make sure you have ten questions about the industry, the company and its people, advancement, the best and worst parts of the job, and anything else that will help you better understand whether this job would be a good fit for you.

  • Arrive early: Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get to the meeting, accounting for delayed public transit or time to park. You don’t want the person’s first impression to be one of waiting for you.

  • Dig into career decisions: You want to really understand how the person you’re speaking to arrived at his or her current company and position. You should ask detailed questions about the person’s career path, including choosing the current position, assessing company fit, and developing criteria to make career decisions.

  • Contribute: Although the purpose of the conversation is for you to ask questions, don’t be afraid to contribute. If you know someone who would be a good fit for an open role at the company, you’ve seen a related product that was recently released, or you’ve read about a company with a similar mission complete a deal or receive funding, bring it up. You might be sharing information the other person doesn’t know. At a minimum, you’re showing that you’re keeping up with the industry.

  • Seek referrals: As the conversation nears the end, ask for referrals to other people who might be willing to chat with you and provide useful advice. A good conversation should naturally lead to networking opportunities with other people.

  • Follow up: Send an email after the conversation, thanking the person for his or her time. In addition, send periodic monthly or quarterly updates on how your search is going and companies you’re actively pursuing.