The informational interview can be a job seeker's secret weapon. However, many people don't know the most basic facts about this powerful tool, including what the purpose is of an informational interview, why informational interview opportunities are so valuable, or how to prepare for an informational interview?
What is an Informational Interview?
An informational interview is not a job interview. You won't be presenting your resume to be considered for a job, you won't be grilled on your background and experiences, and a job offer won't be forthcoming. However, by participating in informational interviews, you may be setting the stage to effectively find new opportunities, sharpen your skill set, and position yourself to net that great new job.
Here are a few reasons information interviews are so valuable:
- An informational interview is an opportunity to sit down with a leader in your target industry or a personal with your desired job title and pick their brain. You can learn all about what they do on a daily basis and how they do it. You can ask how they stay abreast of industry standards and changes, what continuing education or advanced certifications they pursued to succeed, and what professional organizations they admire.
- Your current level of knowledge in this career field will give you an excellent starting point from which to begin your interview. But by learning from a leader, you can gain the knowledge necessary to jump ahead in your career.
- During these meetings, you will have the opportunity to ask questions that might inform your next move, including whether or not you should consider pursuing additional education, how to reorganize your resume, and other tips.
- Finally, an informational interview is a fantastic way to network. And, since 85 percent of all jobs are gotten through networking, that is an opportunity you should never pass up.
How Do You Prepare for an Informational Interview?
Whether you're just getting out of school or are mid-career and looking to make a career change, these seven pro tips will help you prepare for an informational interview to get the most out of the experience.
1. Begin with Your Most Critical Questions
Start with the most important information first. If you get nothing else out of this industry chat with a leader, what is one key thing you hope to learn during your conversation? As the Harvard Business Review advises, "think like a journalist" and ask your most important questions. Brainstorm these questions ahead of time and then let the flow of conversation lead to further questions.
Be careful not to get too sidetracked, however; try to steer your discussion around those areas where you're hoping to gain the most knowledge. At the end of your interview, bring your chat to a close by also asking, "Is there anything I haven't asked today that you would consider key knowledge for me to have?" Admitting you may not know what all to ask is not a bad thing and may unlock information you may have otherwise missed.
2. Soft-Selling Yourself Is Key
You must absolutely remember that this is not a job interview where you. must position yourself for an open job. However, do take the opportunity to talk about yourself briefly, especially when asked about your background and career goals. You may find doors opening as a result. It's not unheard of for an informational interview to lead to future opportunities if a good impression is made.
An informational interview is an opportunity to sit down with a leader in your target industry or a personal with your desired job title and pick their brain. You can learn all about what they do on a daily basis and how they do it. You can ask how they stay abreast of industry standards and changes, what continuing education or advanced certifications they pursued to succeed, and what professional organizations they admire.
3. Allow Enough Time
When you approach a leader with the request to speak with them about their career remember that they are an extremely busy individual for whom time is at a strict premium. But don't shortchange yourself; plan for adequate time to learn what you need to learn.
If the person you are trying to schedule with has a packed schedule during the work week, ask to meet up during the cocktail hour of an industry event, or offer to buy them lunch or dinner. Everyone has to eat and a meal ensures that you have at least that set amount of time together.
Although you could still gain valuable information in a shorter conversation, you'll get far more bang for your buck when you prepare for an informational interview if you plan wisely for time. If you reach the end of your allotted time together but still feel like you have more questions, ask if you can follow up with another coffee chat or perhaps by email or through social media.
4. Prepare Ahead of Time
Especially if you are very early on in your career, take adequate time to prepare for an informational interview. You won't want to get tongue-tied when talking to someone impressive; that's a sure way to take way too many minutes off the clock when you could be learning and growing instead.
Ask friends and colleagues if you can practice with them and pose your questions ahead of time. If you're still a student, get together a group of like-minded learners and practice together. And always rehearse your questions out loud at least once while writing them down to catch awkward turns of phrase or unintended implications.
5. Plan to Interview Multiple People
At the end of commercials, you'll often see a disclaimer that says "results not typical." The same could be said of the professionals you contact during informational interviews. Just because one leader has experienced certain scenarios and wins doesn't mean those are typical results. And experiences can vary wildly depending on companies worked for, geographical areas, and industry verticals.
So, the trite old saying holds true here: Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Instead, find multiple people with whom you can talk. To get a realistic look at a profession or industry, do your best to prepare for an informational interview with several people. There will always be outliers and anomalies. But by incorporating information from multiple sources, you can better grasp what you may be able to anticipate for the future of your career.
6. Use Mutual Acquaintances to Connect
It's much easier to connect with folks who may become influential in your career if you have some type of mutual connection already. Chat with friends, family, professors, and current coworkers when you prepare for an informational interview about what you hope to learn and ask if they know of anyone in their own circle who may be willing to talk to you in that realm.
We live in a very connected world, and you never know who your own connections may be able to hook you up with. You can also put out feelers within your alumni groups, through social media sites like LinkedIn, and during industry events.
7. Don't Forget to Close
What do you do at the end of a job interview? Thank your interviewer for the opportunity, ask if you can follow up, and then send a thank you card or email. Why would you do anything less for an informational interview?
Always close by thanking your interviewee for their time and ask if you can follow up in the future if you have additional questions, or simply tell them that you hope to chat again in the future. Then definitely follow up with a thank you. Keeping yourself fresh in their mind for a time — and following up on interviews — may well lead to enhanced career opportunities of your own at the hands of your new mentor.