Informational interviews are a great way to find out if there are employment openings and to sell yourself to people who can get you a job, right?
Actually…no. WRONG. If you go in with that attitude or agenda, you may seriously piss people off. But informational interviews are great for researching what fields, careers and jobs might be right for you. They are a great way to find out what steps you should take, and which you can avoid, in preparing for your chosen area. They’re also a great way of meeting people, checking out companies, and honing your chops for job interview practice. Here are some tips to make informational interviewing your job search’s new secret weapon!
1. Identify the Right Interviewees
If you wanted to learn about being a pilot, you wouldn’t interview a gate attendant. (Well, you shouldn’t.) Instead, recognize that pilots, mechanics, engineers, flight attendants, and air-traffic controllers all have very different jobs within the airline industry—and target your approach. Research companies, fields and the specific jobs in which you’re interested, then find people in roles who’ll have the information and experience you need. If you have a vague idea of what industry you want to explore, but aren’t yet sure what job you’d like to pursue within that field, then it’s OK to talk to lots of people about their roles and responsibilities— just come prepared with good questions that speak to what each person does.
2. Be Clear About Why You’re There
Most people are more than happy to share their advice and experience with you, but in return you have to make sure you don’t waste their time—or yours. Before you set up the interview, learn as much as you can about the industry, company and person with whom you’re interviewing. Know in advance what you want to get out of the interview so you can craft questions best designed to get the information you want. (Remember, you’re there for information; never forget these are called “informational interviews” for a reason.)
3. Come Prepared!
This is key. What ever you do, do NOT come to the interview and sit down with nothing intelligent to ask. Once you’ve decided why you’re taking up this person’s valuable time, and your own, come up with some good questions. Yes, I said intelligent and good. This means do NOT ask:
“What is your job?”
“What is marketing?”
“What does your company do?”
“Do I need to go to med school to be a surgeon?”
You get the idea. There’s this great thing, it’s called the Internet, and it’s loaded with all kinds of information about industries, companies and people. (I know I’m getting kinda sarcastic here, but you have no idea how annoying it can be to give up a half hour of your day to someone who only asks you things they could have easily found out in a quick Web search. You, you wonderful person, don’t be like them!) Craft questions you can’t get answered anywhere else. Questions like:
- What are the biggest challenges in this field/role?
- What surprised you most about working with ——?
- What classes, websites or books would you recommend I check out to learn more about, or prepare myself for, this field?
- What are your metrics for success?
- What kind of work environment can one expect?
- What should I not bother doing/taking/trying?
- What obstacles did you encounter, and how did you overcome them?
These are just some of the variety of questions you might ask. Remember, you’re there to get certain kinds of information to help you make better choices, decisions and plans for your own career/life. This is for you – ask what you really want to know, ask what you really think would help you make your best choices, decisions, and plans.
4. Leave Room for Spontaneity
Ask your interview questions, but remember, this is a conversation, not an interrogation. Relax—this is an exploration, not an evaluation. Feel free to talk about your goals and experience if asked.
Thank your interviewee when you leave (and do leave, don’t overstay your welcome). Don’t forget to send a thank you note expressing gratitude for the person’s time, attention and wisdom. Definitely mention specific bits of information and inspiration in your email so it’s clear you were listening and taking in what your interviewee had to say. Absolutely send an email immediately following the interview, and I recommend a handwritten note as well. It’s a nice touch and really separates you from the pack. It marks you as thoughtful and a real class act.
This would be your golden opportunity to put in a little something about the company and your interest in working there, or your newfound enthusiasm for the field. Let the person know you’d be interested in any appropriate opportunities that might arise, and ask what they might do to follow-up in the future.
Do job offers spring from informational interviews? Sure, occasionally. And your chances of that happening are increased by, well, a lot, if you take these tips to heart. Meanwhile, embrace the informational interview for what it is: a great opportunity to learn, explore, avoid mistakes, meet people, and practice talking with potential employers with grace, skill and intelligence. Good luck!
Have you had some great experiences doing informational interviews?
Let us know, we’d love to hear about it!
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