Career Counseling Specialist on How Informational Interviewing Boosts Your Career Opportunities
Informational Interviewing - What It Is, How To Do It and Why It Works
For many, mentioning the word interview results in sweaty palms and an anxiety bubble the size of Texas, and for good reason. Within the confines of an interview, dreams are made and hopes are dashed. So why would anyone willingly set up an interview with leaders in their preferred industry? The answer is simple: to gain more information.
Not all interviews are formal conversations resulting in a job offer. In fact, some of the most important interviews you’ll ever endure have nothing to do with describing a moment where you overcame an obstacle. Informational interviews are often overlooked, but within its casual, pressure-free setting, you may find the key to true career advancement. My comment to all my clients is: You must do this to have the best possible job search strategy.
A Stepping Stone For All Professions - What Is An Informational Interview?
In essence, an informational interview is just what it says, an opportunity to speak with a leader in your industry to gain useful and personable insights. Unlike a job interview, informational interviews set the stage for a more intimate, non-pressured dialogue.
It’s common to feel awkward setting up these meetings, which is likely why so few take advantage of this opportunity. Just as with job interview preparation, you will want to prepare for an informational interview. But in reality, many professionals enjoy taking a break from their daily tasks to relay their passions and invaluable insights.
Expanding Your Career Vantage Point - Job Search Strategy Benefits of an Informational Interview
- Gain firsthand insights, guidance and tips about the realities of a particular industry or position. Unlike online resources, which offer generalized overviews, this kind of information is rarely available without speaking with an industry professional.
- Uncover hidden career paths, training options and networking tools.
- Learn from a respected professional how to best prepare for your ideal career.
- Obtain insider tips to help you understand how to write a resume to strengthen your position-targeted resume.
- Cultivate professional relationships and lasting industry contacts, which may lead to future job prospects.
Don’t Be Nervous - An Easy Guide to Setting Up Informational Interviews
Does the idea of setting up an interview with an industry pro make you feel queasy? You’re not alone, but like many things in life, the actual process isn’t as scary as you may think. Tell your anxiety to take the backseat, and take control of your career with these four easy steps.
Step #1 - Figure Out What You Want
Understanding why you’re requesting an informational interview is almost more important than the actual meeting. Why is this? Because without a goal, it’s impossible to get detailed insights that actually matter.
Don’t schedule an interview to only ask, “How can I get a job at your company as a software engineer?” Sure, this may be a hidden agenda of the meeting, but Instead, attack the interview with laser vision. Ask, “What coding environments and source control tools do you currently use at work?” This information will be useful to you as you fashion your job search strategy, improve your skills, and emphasize your achievements.
Takeaway: Identify specific knowledge bits that are important to you. Write these down and let it guide you throughout the entire process.
Step #2 - Learn Who To Interview
This is where most people stop. Figuring out what to ask is one thing. Actually contacting a professional is a whole other ballgame. Finding people to interview takes a little research, and boldness, but as you’ll find out, it’s surprisingly easy.
- Consider people you already know. Even if someone isn’t in the exact field you wish to learn about, they may connect you to someone who is. Never underestimate the power of networking within your own pool of contacts.
- Find contacts who went to your same school. Industry professionals typically take special interest in fellow alumni, either students or graduates. Look through your school’s career network, if available, or use LinkedIn.
- Social media to the rescue! When all else fails, find professionals in your industry via social media platforms, especially through LinkedIn. Don't forget to groom your LinkedIn profile before you reach out, talk to a LinkedIn profile writer if you need help crafting your profile.
Step #3 - Start By Saying Hello
Now comes the part dreaded by many - setting up the interview. Once you’ve gathered a list of names, organize each by priority. Create a primary, secondary and backup list and start sending out interview requests. Make this an ongoing part of your job search process.
Initiating contact doesn’t have to be stressful. Follow this formula and you’ll soon be sitting at a table with a leading professional in your industry:
- Contact the person by phone or email. If your contact has a preferred method, such as email, use that. If not, use a method you’re most comfortable with.
- At the beginning of your conversation, say how you got their name. For phone calls, ask if they have a few minutes to talk. For example, “Hi there, my name’s Joseph Dwiggins. I’m a recent graduate from the University of Awesome’s programming department. Your colleague, Sarah Pickerton, gave me your contact information. Do you have a couple of minutes now or can we schedule a conversation?”
- Make it clear you’re not looking for a job, but only information.
- Be prepared. If the professional is very busy, they may suggest doing the interview right then over the phone.
- Have your calendar handy to schedule an interview at a future date.
Step #4 - Have a Fun and Successful Interview
- Plan the entire interview beforehand. Have a thorough agenda of talking points and questions. Interviews are typically 15 to 30 minutes, so there’s no time to waste.
- Business casual attire is just fine for most interviews.
- Begin by immediately stating you’re not looking for a job, but information. From here, briefly give an overview of your schooling, work experience and why you requested the interview.
- Be prepared to guide the interview, but don’t do most of the talking. Keep your questions short and encourage conversation through targeted questions.
- At the end of the interview, ask if it’s possible to contact them in the future if you have questions regarding career planning advice or otherwise.
- Ask if he or she has recommendations of others you should speak with.