Successful informational interviews are a great way to learn more about a career you are considering or an employer who interests you.
Informational interviews, done well, mean a successful job search… and career!
What Is an Informational Interview?
An informational interview is a short, one-on-one discussion with someone who works in the field you want. Or they may work for an employer you are considering. You ask them for information and advice about the field or employer you are considering.
Informational interviews are in-person at a location convenient to the person doing you this big favor (a local Starbucks, etc). The interviews also happen over the phone, Skype, or other technology.
How Successful Informational Interviews Help You
Successful informational interviews can help you shorten your job search in 3 main ways:
- You will be better-informed for your next job change or career move.
- You will have a larger network.
- You will be more comfortable with interviews and speaking with relative strangers.
In the end, your ultimate goal is to avoid the job market and career pot-holes that set back both your career and your income. You’ll make better choices than you would have without the information you gathered in these interviews.
Who Do You Interview?
Typically, you interview with someone you know or someone you were referred to by someone you know.
Ideally, interview someone who holds the job you want next. Or a person who held it in the recent past. You can also speak with someone who works (or worked) for one of your target employers. Check your LinkedIn connections for a list of possibilities.
Target experienced managers who have been in your target field or working for one of your target employers for a few years. They have the perspective of someone making hiring decisions. They’ve also have seen people succeed, and fail, in the past.
Important Don’ts for Successful Informational Interviews
Informational interviews can be an extremely effective way to gather information. However, people have too often used informational interviews to pitch themselves for a job rather than to collect information.
- If you are employed, do NOT openly solicit interviews in social media or meetings | Your employer may view you as a “flight risk,” even though you say you are looking only for a job inside the company. A “flight risk” can damage an organization before (and after) they leave, meaning you could end up unemployed or in an extremely awkward discussion with your boss as a result.
- Do NOT use the interview as an excuse to pitch yourself for a job | That’s a bait-and-switch approach, and often burns bridges for you and for others.
- Do NOT bring a copy of your resume to this type of interview! | Want to alientate the person sitting across the table from you? Try to turn the informational interview into a job interview.
- Do NOT abuse the people or the process | Be on time, and don’t take too much time. If you have asked for 20 minutes, end the interview on time. Don’t take 25 or 30 minutes unless the person insists (insists!) that he or she is happy to spend the additional time.
- Do NOT waste the time of the people who are trying to help you | Asking questions that could have been answered with a Google search (e.g. size of the company, locations, products and services, etc.) show lack of interest and/or lack of preparation. Neither is a good use of someone’s valuable time.
- Do NOT put someone in an awkward position by asking rude or stupid questions | Don’t ask what employer they wish they were working for (instead of where they are working). Don’t mention why [name of the employer’s product or service] is so crummy. Don’t talk about why management has a bad reputation. Those kinds of questions can end the interview quickly and certainly make it more difficult to network with this person in the future.
Important Dos for a Successful Informational Interview
Do use the informational interview opportunity to collect relevant information that will help you succeed in your job search.
- Pick up the check | They are doing you a favor. Don’t make it cost them more than their time.
- Be prepared | Beyond knowing the basics about where the person works and what the person you are interviewing does, have relevant questions prepared. And don’t be afraid to take notes.
- Focus on learning more about the job/field or the employer | Ask questions to learn more than what the employer makes public about what they do and how they hire
- Thank the person for their time and sharing their insight with you | Like every job interview you have (right?) send a nice, relatively formal thank you note to the person who generously shared their time and insight with you. Offer to help them in the future, if you can. They did you a favor, possibly a BIG favor, and deserve your gratitude, even if the information doesn’t seem immediately useful to you.
- Keep your network up-to-date | If you were referred to the person you interviewed with, send the person who made the referral a thank you and short update. Do NOT be negative about the person or the experience.
Through a quality informational interview (or several) you will move your career forward. You will also increase and strengthen your network. Schedule your first, or next, interview today!
For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at Work Coach Cafe.
About the Author: Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management since 2012, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Job-Hunt.org. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Google+.