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Some people assume only students or new grads should go on informational interviews, but it can be a worthwhile endeavor for other job seekers as well. Career changers will especially find it useful.
What It Is
The purpose of an informational interview is to learn more about an industry or a specific position. You find someone who works in the field you want to enter, holds a position like the one you are seeking, or is employed by a company you’d like to learn more about, and you interview them. Your goal is to find out what the industry or job involves, the traits one should possess to be successful, the skills needed to do the work, and the best way to begin a career in that field.
Why You Should Do It
In addition to learning valuable information about your chosen career field, informational interviewing also builds your professional network. While you are not seeking a job from these interviews, you will be making contacts who could help you find jobs in the future or serve as mentors when you enter their career field.
How You Do It
Begin by asking your friends and family if they know of anyone who currently works in a position like the one you desire, or who works in that industry. It is often less intimidating to contact someone when a friend can refer you to them.
If you do not have a contact who can refer you, it is okay to place a “cold call” to someone. Read company websites to see who works in the type of position you seek. LinkedIn.com is also a good place to look for people to interview. Once you find a way to contact them, be very clear about your purpose.
Introduce yourself briefly, and explain why you’d like to speak with them. Emphasize that you are looking into a career in their field and you would like to learn from their experience and expertise.
Ask for only 10-15 minutes to chat. You want to be respectful of their time. Stick to the time limit you set unless they invite you to talk with them longer. Even then, be mindful that they are probably very busy. Don’t outstay your welcome!
Prepare 6-10 questions you most want to ask. If they prefer, you could even send these to them ahead of time so they will know what type of information you are seeking.
Potential questions could include:
- How did you get into this profession?
- What do you enjoy most about it?
- What skills should someone in industry have?
- What are the keys to success in this field?
- How should one go about getting started in this industry?
- Are there any professional organizations I should look into joining?
- How can I gain experience in this field before working in it? Are internships common in this field?
- Are there other people you would recommend for me to contact as I explore this career field?
Dress the way you would for a job interview. Though this isn’t a job interview, it is still an opportunity to make a good impression on someone within your career field.
After the interview, thank them for their time and be sure to follow up with them. Like a formal job interview, you want to send a thank-you note or email no more than 24 hours after your interview.
What It Is Not
Keep in mind the informational interview isn’t about trying to get a job. People will feel manipulated if you turn it into a job-seeking opportunity. If the person you are interviewing asks for your résumé, it is fine to give them a copy or email one to them later, but don’t assume they will want a copy.
Some of your informational interviews may eventually lead to jobs, while others will not. However, you will gain valuable information, build your professional network, and gain interview experience – all things that will help you succeed in your job search.