Informational interviews are top-tier resources for gaining career advice and setting an action plan for starting or propelling your career. They represent an opportunity to learn more about a role, career path, company, or industry. If you have any of these defined, but you want to know more about how they actually are in the day-to-day, then meeting with someone already developing in those conditions is the best way to get some perspective and real-life evidence.
An informational interview is a meeting in which recent grads, job-seekers, or fresh workers can learn about someone’s real-life experiences working in a determined field or company. A key aspect to keep in mind is that these interviews are merely informative. It’s not a job interview where you’ll ultimately get a job offer. The main purpose of informational interviews is to gain insight and valuable career advice.
Dorie Clark, author of Stand Out Networking, stated that informational interviews are essential for finding out more about the type of industry, company, or role you’re interested in. Talking with someone from the inside will allow you to test your assumptions, give your profile exposure, and get your name out there in the job market.
If you’re skeptical of how much time and effort is worth sourcing, reaching out, and meeting with a person involved in the company or industry you’re interested in, keep in mind you’ll be getting first-hand advice about career moves, skills to put on your resume, or responsibilities of the role you’re seeking. So think twice when you feel it’s not worthwhile.
In case you need more reasons to convince yourself of the importance of requesting an informational interview, here are other major benefits.
Conducting an information interview involves various stages. From sourcing and reaching out to a professional involved in the company or career you’re interested in, scheduling time for the meeting, and drafting your questions, here are some of the most common informational interview phases.
Stage zero of the informational interview process is to imagine your ideal career path; from finding the right industry to get into, a proper entry-level position, and the ideal company you’d like to work with in the peak of your career. Online research is the best method to learn about your areas of interest. Having a clear picture of these aspects will also allow you to know what information would be helpful for career advice.
For this phase of your informational interview prep, you can start with people you already know: colleagues, professors, or former employers. Another option is to source through LinkedIn, or your college alumni network a professional whose background, company, or industry aligns with your career path. Once you’ve found them, reach out, introduce yourself, and make an informational interview request.
You’ll need to prepare for the meeting once you’ve gotten the yes from your outreach request. Start by writing down a set of topics and questions in order of priority. If the conversation flows differently than expected, you can adjust as needed, but this script will allow you to guide the conversation.
Remember that your goal in an informational interview is to learn as much as possible and build a relationship, so let the conversation run its course instead of sticking to the questions.
Whether you’re meeting in person or virtually, be aware of these good practices for your informational interview:
Another pro tip for informational interviews is to kick things off with small talk. It can be about your interests, location, education, background, etc. This will also make the conversation more genuine and human so it doesn’t feel like an investigative interview. Last but not least, remember to thank your interviewee for taking the time to chat with you.
Keeping a record during your informational interview will allow you to follow up appropriately. Once you’re clear about what you’ve learned, you can weigh in on what else you’d like to know and your next steps. Aside from sending a thank you note to your interviewee a few days later, you should stay in touch so you can ask further questions or just share the outcome of his advice.
Your informational interview will be as powerful and useful as the questions you ask. Even though these will depend on your objective and the topics you’re interested in, here are some suggestions you can include among your informational interview questions.
This informational interview question is the equivalent of the “Tell me about yourself” question. Aside from being an effective icebreaker to kick-start the chat, it’ll also work as an opener for self-introductions. This question allows you to get more details about your interviewee’s story and can lead to them sharing intriguing points relevant to you and your situation.
The most common reasons for career changes, job resignations, or lack of workplace happiness is weak motivation. Not all stories are the same, some people find their path during childhood, while others figure it out just after college or once they graduate.
Whether you have clear hows and whys or you’re just figuring them out, learning about someone else’s career aspirations will allow you to evaluate and mirror your motivations, setting a stronger foundation for your career.
Hard and soft skills are needed to succeed in any role, but some are more effective for some industries or companies. Including this question in your list will allow you to assess which skills you already have and understand the other areas of improvement needed to succeed throughout your career.
There’s a mistaken belief that your major will define your career and you won’t be able to change or relate to a field outside your major. Asking how determining a major can be during your informational interview will give you the confidence to take your chances for that job you think you’re under or overqualified for and give you insight on potential skill-gaps.
This will also demystify how vital a major is for the role you’re trying to get since there are many industries where only degrees or on-the-job training is needed to gain an entry-level position.
Mentoring sessions are a heavily underestimated resource for some industries. Some companies even offer mentoring programs for new staff, but there’s no better way to measure their effectiveness than asking someone in that industry who has already been involved with a mentor.
Even though not all professional relationships are as formal as mentorships are believed to be, working alongside someone with more experience will contribute to your development. Make sure to include this option in your informational interview questions.
Asking about frequent challenges during your informational interview will give a glimpse of recurring obstacles you’ll have to deal with once you start your career path at a given company or industry. From challenges to maintaining a healthy work-life balance to tasks you’ll have to perform, you must know about them so you can decide if you’ll stick to your plan or try a different path.
Once your informational interview is over, you should feel more prepared to take your next step or to draw a more detailed plan for your career. Either way, make sure to get the most out of your interview and explore your possibilities with your interviewee so they can provide insight into which option is better.
Contributed by Luis Arellano
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