It is a big thing to decide on the industry you want to work in and a solid investment in your future to acquire high caliber qualifications to gain entry. But when it comes to deciding exactly where to put your skills and knowledge to work, getting your hands on solid information as well as advice can make all the difference between a job and a career.
This is where the informational interview comes in.
What is an Informational Interview?
Informational interviews are casual conversations in which you as a job seeker speak with an employed professional. An informal meeting with someone who knows the industry, the niche, the sector, and the company that potentially interests you. Imagine how useful it might be to glean the inside track from an experienced professional before committing yourself to the job seeking process.
An informational interview is your chance to find out much more; to seek advice about the industry, find out more about the corporate culture of your potential future workplace, and kick start a network of invaluable contacts that will nurture you professionally.
Now, while it goes without saying that you do your homework and adopt a professional attitude throughout, there are seven key steps to driving the process of the informational interview.
Seven Simple Steps
Step 1: Introspection
Ahead of any meeting or exchange it is important to take the time to figure out exactly what information you are looking for. So before you go ahead and set up an informational interview, do some self-analysis. Ask yourself these question:
- What am I searching for?
- What information do I need?
- What kind of career do I want?
And think deeply about what it is that you want out of your career. Write it out and use that to focus yourself during the other steps.
Step 2: Analyze Your Network
Once you have a clear idea of what information you are looking for, it is time for you to review your network of contacts. Make a list of those people who might be able to give you guidance and decide who on that list might be best placed to help you. Now that you have a list, rank the order of contacts in order of who might be the most relevant person to provide you with the information you are looking for. This list does not need to consist of recruiters, rather it should be a list of people in a profession that you are interested in pursuing or they are working at company you want to know more about.
Using the ranking order, take some time to find out more about the people on your list—starting from the top. Check out their online profiles on LinkedIn and Twitter. Google them. See if you have friends or contacts in common – classmates, family, or instructors– who might be able to share some details, and ask for information.
You should do some research about the people you plan on interviewing, gain insight to their professional career by looking them up on LinkedIn.
Step 3: Make Contact
It is time to reach out and see if your potential contact will respond to your request. Email, LinkedIn messaging, or a phone call are options, but remember to be polite and professional.
Be upfront about what you want and why you think they might help. Be sure to communicate what you are looking for, and then ask for 15-30 minutes of their time to discuss
And if your first option cannot be of help, do not be discouraged – move onto the second contact and so on (this is why you have a list). Remember, most people will be flattered to be asked – you have reached out to them as an expert in their field.
Step 4: Plan Your Meeting
Think of this step as setting your agenda. You need to have a plan for how to conduct your meeting and need to know which questions to ask. The person you are meeting might have the answers but you need to ask the correct questions to prompt their responses.
Do not forget to ask your contact about themselves and what it was that attracted them to this sector or company.
Step 5: Come Prepared
You have limited time, so use your time wisely and be adequately prepared. This means bringing along your resume and perhaps a personal statement. Have your questions ready and in order of priority. You may not get to cover as much ground as you would like so top-load the important stuff and leave the less critical questions until later. In 15 minutes you won’t have time to ask 10 questions, so be sure to know which ones are the most important and start with those.
Be prepared too to say something about yourself as your contact will likely want to know why you have reached out—like an elevator pitch, this should be succinct and to the point.
This could be an opportunity to gain a referral for a potential opening but should not be the objective of your meeting. Think about your goals, aspirations, professional, and educational milestones and be ready to answer questions.
Step 6: Be Punctual, Be Professional
Clear your mind of any distractions and be fully present - show your contact that you respect their time. This means turning up at least five minutes ahead of time. It means putting your cell on silent and it means dressing the part. It’s a casual meeting so a suit won’t be necessary most likely. Business casual, though, is a must.
During your discussion be alert, engaged, and show your interest.
If you do not get through your questions, request a referral to follow up with or ask if you can email them a few more questions—if you really need those answers. With respect and appreciation.
Step 7: Follow up
You have taken up someone’s valuable time. Take time now to send them a note acknowledging this and express your gratitude, being very sure to follow up on any actions or referrals they have shared with you.
And most importantly, now that you have gotten the information you were looking for, use it.
There is not a limit to how many people you conduct informational interviews with, but for each one you do, be sure to go through the above steps so you can make the most of each interaction.