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Using Informational Interviews to Your Advantage

Tags:  Interview Skills, Looking for work, Informational interview

Informational interviewing is a process that many people don't utilize, but which can be very helpful for the first-time job seeker because it offers you the opportunity to talk to people in the know and learn about their careers, their industry or their companies. The whole idea behind informational interviewing is to allow you the chance to ask questions in order to explore areas of interest that you might want to pursue as a career.

It works like this: you identify someone who works for an organization, in an industry or in a career where you have interest. You contact this person strictly to talk about your area of interest with the intent of learning more information so you can decide if this is the right career avenue for you to follow. It's as simple as that.

This is not a job interview. Instead the purpose is to practice your interviewing skills and gather information to better understand your career choices. To make sure you do it right and get the most you can from the process, here are the six steps you'll need.

It's Not What You Know, It's Who You Know

Never has this statement been truer. Informational interviewing is all about getting to know people. And the best way to start is by making a list of everyone you already know.

Your list should consist of classmates, instructors, advisors, friends, parents, relatives, neighbors and anyone else you might know. The people on your list may include those you want to interview as well as those who might be able to refer you to someone else for an interview.

Know What You Want to Know

Once you have a list of people to speak with, you need to ask yourself why you are conducting an informational interview. Are you seeking information about a particular industry, a specific company or a possible career field and who on your list might be able to point you in the right direction?

Have a Plan in Place

Before you jump on the phone and start calling everyone on your list, you'll need to layout a plan of how you will proceed. Here's what you need to be prepared to do:

  • Introduce yourself.
  • Explain who referred you.
  • Describe your interest in their company, industry or career and that the purpose of your call is to get further information.
  • Ask for a meeting.
  • If they say they are too busy, ask for a referral to someone else.

Be courteous and as brief as possible, and be sure to thank them for their time.

Pretend You're a Talk Show Host

Before showing for your appointment, be prepared to be the one who conducts the interview. After all you called for this meeting because you want more information. And one of the easiest ways to be sure you are asking the right questions is to think about what you really want (and need) to know in order to make a career decision.

Some typical questions might include:

  • Can you tell me about the company and its culture?
  • What kind of background and experience did you bring to this job?
  • What do you like about your career choice?

Be a Professional

Even though you're not interviewing for a job, you are still at a place of business. That means dressing appropriately and being on your best behavior. And it means bringing your resume, just in case. But don't offer it unless asked.

Make sure you are on time for your appointment and don't overstay your welcome. Informational interviews last 15 to 30 minutes max. Get a business card before you leave.

ABCs of Interviews: Always Be Courteous

It is always important to be courteous. That means being alert and engaged during the interview as well as following up afterwards. A brief note of thanks whether by snail mail or email is always the right move.

If you are given an additional referral, be sure to follow up. It makes no sense to spend the time if you are not going to pursue all opportunities. 

Done properly informational interviews help you fine tune your networking and interviewing skills as well as provide you with information you might not otherwise have about your career field. 

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