Informational Interviews

What is an Informational Interview?

Informational interviews are a two-way conversation with a professional in your field of interest. They are interviews designed to help you gather more information about a specific industry, profession, or company. It is an excellent opportunity to talk with professionals in the field in order to get a more personal insight into your career of choice without the pressure of a formal job interview. It is important to remember that this is not a formal job interview. It is a fact-finding mission that provides you with exposure to professionals and creates opportunities for networking.1

Why is Networking so Important?

If you peruse the want ads, then you are only seeing about 20% of the positions that are truly available. Most employers look to fill positions from within their own organizations first. Then, they reach out to current employees for referrals. Often it is only if these two methods do not yield results that employers look to advertise open positions.2

A face-to-face meeting is the goal. Who would be a good person to meet with and how do you get a meeting?

It is important to identify what interests you and what kind of jobs you wish to investigate. This will narrow down a type of professional to get in contact with. Next, you want to schedules some meetings. By far, the best source for informational interviews are referrals, so tap your network of contacts. These people can be:

  • Classmates/Alumni Contacts
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Colleagues

If this method fails to produce results, connect with career services, join LinkedIn groups, or even do some research on the Internet. When getting in touch with your contact, make the purpose of the meeting clear-you are searching for information, not job leads. These are busy individuals, so ask them if they can spare 20 to 30 minutes for a meeting. Follow their lead as to whether they would prefer an over the phone or an in-person interview. Most likely, your contact will be helpful and very receptive to answering your questions.2

Is the Informational Interview One Sided?

Absolutely not! The informational interview should be reciprocal in nature and should play into your networking strategy. Networking relationships do not open when you need something and close once you obtain it. Make sure that you prepare for your meeting. Do your homework on the company and, if possible, the person you're meeting with. Hobbies are a great icebreaker.

As your career progresses, keep in touch with your contacts-keep in communication about each other's endeavors or pass along an interesting professional publication that you found. The idea is not to necessarily make a new best friend, but to keep a fresh connection in place.

Healthy networking relationships can lead to opportunities for you and for others in your network. Make an effort to be open to new people and to be of assistance to others in the future. This is the essence of a reciprocal relationship and is an excellent practice to begin cultivating.

The Actual Interview: You have an interview scheduled. What are the next steps?

Preparation:

Before your interview, make sure that you research your contact and the company they work for. Know their official title and how to correctly pronounce their name. In addition, prepare at least 20 questions to ask (you probably won't have time for all, but it is prudent to have some backups).

Some sample questions may include:

  • What is a typical day like for you?
  • What are the pros and cons of working in this industry?
  • What is necessary for success in your line of work?
  • What advice can you offer to someone looking to enter the field?

Have questions that are general inquiries about the field as well as ones that are more tailored to the company if the conversation progresses in that direction. Being informed about your contact and having plenty of questions demonstrates your interest.2

However, be prepared to answer some questions yourself. Staying true to the transactional nature of the process, your contact may inquire about your professional interests, motivations and experiences. Make sure you have a current copy of your resume along in case your contact is willing to review it with you. Be prepared to demonstrate your value as a professional!

The Interview:

Try and get the person that you are talking to start by talking about what is on their mind. If it is a problem you will have the opportunity to offer, where practical, your own insights and guidance. If they want to talk about what they did over the weekend or their hobbies it will be a great lead in to a conversation. While it is not a formal job interview, you should conduct yourself as you would during an official business appointment. Dress in business professional attire and make sure that you arrive early. This gives you ample time to ensure you can find where the meeting will take place, as well as have some time to relax and focus on the interview. Follow the lead of your contact. The conversation may follow several paths so be willing to deviate from your prepared questions.3 Remember to be friendly, respectful, and positive.

Interview Review

  • Research your contact and the company
  • Answer question with answers longer than a few words, but shorter than about one and a half minutes
  • Come prepared with questions about both the industry and company
  • Be prepared to answer questions as well
  • Be friendly, respectful, and positive!
  • Ask if they recommend anyone else to talk to
  • Follow-up and make the process transactional

Ask for more connections and referrals!

At the end of the interview, ask if there is anyone else they recommend talking to. Ask for permission to use your contact's name when reaching out to these new referrals. Get names! Get referrals to continue expanding your network.

Follow-up:

Always send a thank you note with additional information if possible within 48 hours of your interview. A good practice is to request a business card at the end of your meeting. You should use it to know where to send the letter, as well as to correctly spell your contact's name and title. Also, assistants often serve as the first line of defense against unwanted communication. Ensure to thank them as well for their efforts in arranging the meeting.

 

References

1.     Doyle, Alison. "Informational Interview." About.com Job Searching. Web. March 15, 2010. http://jobsearch.about.com/cs/infointerviews/a/infointerview.htm.

2.     Ferrett, Sharon K. Strategies: Getting and Keeping the Job You Want. New York: McGraw Hill/Glencoe, 2003. 53,61-62. Print.

3.    Lorenz, Kate. "How Does an Informational Interview Work?" CareerBuilder.com.Web. March 17, 2010. http://www.careerbuilder.com/Article/CB-481-Getting-Ahead-How-Does-an-Informational-Interview-Work/.