One of the best ways to prepare for career transition is the informational interview. As the name implies, this interview differs from the traditional interview in its intent; not to obtain employment, but to obtain information. Informational interviews can help you expand your professional network, learn more about your chosen field, and build your confidence for future job interviews.
Effective informational interviewing starts with a specific job target in mind. Once you’ve done your research and know something about your goal and the industry, you can start to seek out professionals that will be willing to meet with you. You can choose to meet with people doing the job or the hiring managers. You may benefit by speaking with both. From the professional in the field, you’ll get perspective on what the job involves on a daily basis, trends in the industry, and how the job matches up with your interests and abilities. From the hiring manager, you’ll learn what companies look for in candidates, how they evaluate skills and education, and what a typical career path might look like.
There are many resources that will help you connect with professionals to interview. If you’re a recent graduate, you can ask professors or your campus placement office for names in the industry you’re pursuing. Professional association meetings are great places to meet people in the field. You can also read the business news for names of people who have recently been promoted or hired.
When you call to ask for a meeting, your conversation or message should be concise and well-organized. “My name is Ann Smith, and I’m a recent graduate of (my college)SchoolofBusinesswith a Marketing degree. I’m interested in pursuing a career as an Account Executive in an advertising firm, and I was hoping you could spare about 20 minutes or so to speak with me about the field. I believe your insight can help me understand more about the job requirements and help me prepare to pursue openings later.” Be ready to reassure your contact that you are aware that there may be no current openings. Most professionals are familiar with the concept of the informational interview; they just want to know up front that you’re not expecting more than information.
In the informational interview, you’ll be asking the questions. Prepare 5 – 10 questions about the industry and the job, and bring along something to take notes. Some questions you might want to include:
- On a typical day in this position, what do you do?
- What personal qualities or abilities are important to being successful in this job?
- How did you get your job?
- What do you think of the experience I’ve had so far in terms of entering this field?
- What special advice would you give a person entering this field?
As for the meeting itself, follow all the rules of a conventional interview. Be on time, dress professionally, and be very mindful of the time limit you set. Stick to your productive 20 minutes, and leave promptly. Bring along a couple of copies of your resume, in case your contact is willing to review it for you and make suggestions for improvement. Be sure to follow up with a thank you note after the meeting.
After a few meetings with professional contacts, you’ll be much more prepared for job interviews that come along. It’s a great opportunity to practice your interviewing in a lower stress situation. Sometimes, the informational interviews actually lead to jobs later on. One marketing professional told me that she was so impressed with a recent graduate who’d asked for an informational interview that she kept her resume on file. When her department had an opening a few months later, she called her in and interviewed her for the position – and made her an offer shortly after. The job opening never hit the street, and the recent graduate may never have had a chance at it without the contact she’d established. If you’re in transition in your career, put this powerful networking tool to work for you soon.