An Informational Interview is an interview that you schedule and hold with a person who is currently working or has worked in an industry, company, or career you are considering. The purpose is to gather critical information from an insider’s point of view. We also covered the goals, essential rules of engagement and some sample questions.
Goals of an Informational Interview
People are generally interested and open to talking about what they know and what they do. Most people also like to help others succeed. Valuable information can be gathered through an informational interview, regardless of what you are trying to determine.
College to attend or major to declare: In some industries, degrees and training from specific colleges are held in higher esteem than from others colleges and some majors can translate into a multitude of industries and careers.
Job to pursue: By getting inside information about the realities of a career, you are better able to determine if the job suits your interests, skills, abilities, interests and personality.
Industry and company to target: There are many industries and companies who can use your skills. Ask about the viability of an industry, recent trends and company culture. Although you may qualify for a position and need a job, you do not want to go into a dysfunctional organization (at least not without knowing it ahead of time) or an industry that is about to become obsolete. You can also obtain information about a manager’s managerial style.
Skills to highlight in your job interview and in your resume: When companies have open positions, it is because they have specific needs. Knowing what their needs are will help you target your resume and interview to their needs. An informational interview allows you access to this information. In addition, some professionals are open to critiquing your resume for the necessary skills and key words.
Referrals to other people to interview: Informational interviews are beneficial in identifying various careers within an industry, getting job titles, job descriptions, list of skills and experience requirements, and the names of companies that hire that position. Side benefits of the informational interview are that you strengthen your interviewing skills by learning to identify contacts, requesting and setting appointments, interviewing and following through. You will also increase your network of contacts.
Rules of Engagement
Prepare: Develop a list of questions about the job or the industry you want to learn more about. Research to be sure the answers to the questions you have are not readily available.
Find an expert & introduce yourself: When you contact the professionals you want to interview, let them know you want to find out more about a career in this field by asking them questions and by getting their opinions.
Set the appointment: Agree on the date, start time and a set duration, usually 30 minutes.
Be punctual: If the route is new to you, drive the route ahead of time so you are familiar with it.
Ending the interview:
Honor the agreed upon time commitment. Even if you have not asked all of your questions, end on time.
Thank them for their time and all of the information they shared.
Write-up and evaluate the information you received.
Send thank you notes to everyone with whom you met and include specific to make your appreciation sound more sincere.
Use the Information: Most important of all, leverage the information you received and the contacts you made.
Sample Information Interview Questions
Their background: How did they get into the business?
Education: What education, training, and certifications are required or suggested? Are any schools held in higher esteem than others? Where did they go to school?
The position: What are the daily duties of the position? What are the best and worst aspects of the position in their opinion? What other career areas do they feel are related to this work? What experience (volunteer, intern, other) would they recommend for someone entering this field? What are some employers who recruit people for this field? What are the most important requirements for this position? What else should you know when considering this position as a career?
The industry: What are some outside influences that could affect the company and industry? What do they believe will be the future of the industry (ex. technology, trends)?
Things NOT to do:
Do NOT ask for a job
Do NOT ask if they are hiring
Do NOT ask for an interview. People who confuse an informational interview with a job interview make it less likely professionals will agree to another one, ruining it for other job seekers.
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