The world is changing, and one of the real benefits is that employees now have more control over their careers than ever before. One of the best ways to get the job you want is to know everything you can about the position and industry you’re striving to work in. An informational interview is an exceptional method for gaining the insight you need to climb the ladder in any career field. Below are tips for a successful informational interview that will help you seek advice, network with people in your industry, and learn more about the corporate culture of any potential future workplace.
Start With Those You Know
I advise job seekers to start with people they know. Reach out to friends, classmates, colleagues, and friends of friends first. Social media such as LinkedIn and Facebook are great resources for reaching out to people who may be able to help you realize your career goals. Mixers, career fairs, and holiday parties are also great places to network for advice.
Touch Base With Experts in Your Field
LinkedIn is a wonderful tool for finding experts in your field. Find people who do what you want to do and send a message through LinkedIn. You can also look up companies online that you may wish to work for and reach out via email or with a telephone call to someone that already works there in the position you want.
You may find it difficult to call on a complete stranger to conduct an informational interview, but you can make it easier by preparing a short script in advance. You can write something down to read off of such as, “I’m very interested in pursuing a career as a (fill in the blank here) and I would love to hear about your experience and advice for someone like me just starting out.” While people are busy, most will feel flattered that you asked them for information and will gladly accommodate you.
Keep It Short and Sweet
An informational interview doesn’t necessarily have to be in person. It can be conducted in five minutes over the phone, via e-mail, or on Skype. If you wish to meet in person, offer a short meeting for coffee or a quick visit to their office. However you wish to hold the informational interview, keep it concise as time is money.
What to Say
What should you say in the initial outreach? The key is to always ask first for their permission and if they have the time to help you. Let them know you have only one or two questions so they understand that you won’t be taking up half their day with a long e-mail or more than five minutes on the phone.
Be specific with your requests. For example, tell them, “I have only two questions to ask about how you got to where you are today—may I send them via e-mail?” Or, “I hope one day to be as successful as you in a corporate auditing role. I’m just starting out in my career and I was wondering if you have no more than five minutes to answer two or three questions for me about how you got where you are today?”
If you’ve been following the person, start with what you admire about their work, what they’ve published, or how you’re connected. Once you’ve let them know what you admire about their work, request permission to ask them two to three questions about what they do and how they achieved success in their industry. Remember to ask politely and never assume they will want to help. A genuine compliment on their accomplishments (“I find your monthly blog is always an interesting read.”) is also often helpful.
As any rookie reporter can attest, interviewing someone can be difficult, especially if you are not prepared. Do your homework in advance. Learn as much as you can about the person you’ll be interviewing, their position and successes, and the company they work for. Preparation pays off.
Once you have their permission, send your questions—no more than three—so as to be respectful of their time. Interviews of any sort should flow like a great conversation. To prepare, put together a list of questions you have about the position, industry, or company you are interested in learning more about.
Questions you might ask include what a typical day in their position looks like or what the most difficult aspects of their job are. You could also ask about the educational requirements for the job you want, or who has been influential for them in achieving their career goals. As you are listening, you may come up with a more pertinent question than one you have written down. It’s okay to skip the prepared questions and go with the flow, but remember to end on time.
Network Through Your Contact
As your informational interview is coming to a close, be sure to thank them for their time and ask for recommendations of others you should talk to who may be able to give further insight into the field you are pursuing. This allows you to network even further in the industry and you may garner additional information you can use to assist in your career search.
Always Send a Thank-You
Whether you send a letter or thank-you card, you always, always need to follow up on an informational interview. In addition to just being good manners, this solidifies your connection with the person who has just given of their time to share with you their hard-earned career knowledge. They deserve the thanks, plus, the world is a small place and you never know when your paths may cross again. If they remember you were interested, brief, and polite, they will be more inclined to help you in your career later if they have the opportunity.
Follow Up on Referrals
Be sure to follow up on the names your source referred you to. You could conduct another short informational interview with them to learn even more, and it is another networking opportunity. This may lead to your name being discussed in circles that could lead to a job offer, so remember to always present yourself as a professional.
In conclusion, the informational interview is a great way to gather information and advice about any career field. It is also a terrific way to meet new people who may be able to give you some good advice and point you in the right direction for career success. Using the above tips is a step toward getting exactly where you want to be in your career.