Today I want to talk about the informational interview. The informational interview has many names. Some call it professional (or career) networking. Others like to refer to it as an ‘informational conversation’. The man responsible for coining this term is career expert and acclaimed author Richard Nelson Bolles. He first used the term in his handbook, What Color Is Your Parachute? If you’re interested in initiating such an interview, you should know that both the jobseeker and the industry insider can take the initiative. All you need to do is find the right contacts. Lucky for you, there are plenty of resources at your disposal these days. Go online, check out social networking platforms, scour the newspaper ads, look at job boards, inquire at career placement services, attend trade and professional association meetings, ask your college professors, and finally, get interviewing!
What Does Holding an Informational Interview Entail?
When you think of the informational interview, consider your career networking settings first. This typically first involves a job seeker who is currently looking for a job introducing himself or herself to an employed professional. The job seeker will ask for career advice and discuss the particular field he or she is interested in. This interview also serves as research into the corporate culture of a particular company. In essence, the job seeker is announcing he or she is seeking employment in this field. However, this is done much more subtle fashion. However, you don’t have to be unemployed to go on such a job interview; perhaps you’re simply interested in exploring other career options.
The end goal of informational interviewing is not to openly discuss a specific job or to discuss details about getting hired in a certain position. Instead, the goal is to discuss the employee’s industry or employer. The job seeker’s goal should be to receive advice, while the industry insider is there to determine whether this potential jobseeker would be a good match with the company’s corporate values. In this sense, information interviewing is less stressful for everyone involved. Often times, it is more relaxed and friendlier than a typical job interview. Both the interviewer and interviewee can use this opportunity to get to know each other better.
Role Reversal: When the Interviewer is on a Job Hunt
Though informational interviews tend to be more informal than traditional ones, there is still a certain etiquette that must be observed. Check out our handy sheet of informational interview tips below; they might help you regardless of whether you’re the interviewer or the interviewee.
Tips for Interviewers (i.e. job seekers)
- If you’re the one to initiate the interview, remember that the professional you’re talking to is doing you a favor. Be respectful and mindful of his or her time.
- As with any other type of interview, you should take some time to do your research beforehand. Learn as much as you can about the company and company’s industry. Make a mental list of some informational interview questions that are relevant to your interests. As they say, “Always come prepared.”
- After you’ve come up with a list of contacts to interview, get in touch with them. Ask them spare some time for a brief meeting or phone call. However, you shouldn’t persist with people who already turned you down.
- Bear in mind, you probably won’t get too much time to interview. Most informational interviews last 15 to 30 minutes. Use your time wisely.
- Don’t ask for job leads. Instead, ask for advice. An informational interview is not an opportunity to get hired. Instead, this interview should be used to expand your professional network.
- Allow the person interviewed to take the lead. If he or she prefers a phone call, go with it. Don’t rush into the interview process either. Wait for the right time to conduct the interview (which should occur after you’ve done enough research).
Tips for Interviewees (i.e. hired professionals)
- Be empathetic. Some of the questions the job seeker may ask you could seem naïve. Remember, you’re generally going to be talking with people just starting out in their careers. They aren’t likely to be ‘up-to-speed’ on the more esoteric aspects of your career. Your purpose is to offer guidance and advice.
- Be specific. Avoid vague, drawn-out answers and keep your discourse to the point. If the job seeker asks you about your typical work day, don’t ramble on about company values. Point the interviewer in all the directions you see as important: news sources, professional organizations, trade associations, etc.
- Don’t offer jobs. This is not the point of an informational interview and it will help neither you nor the person conducting the interview. Save this step for later if it’s applicable.
- Don’t offer mentorship unless you’re sure about it. There’s a certain degree of pride and prestige associated with being someone’s professional mentor. However, this is also a position that comes with significant responsibilities. These responsibilities should not be taken lightly. Only offer to mentor someone if you’re sure you have the time and energy to handle it.
Common Informational Interview Questions
Here are some typical interview questions you might want to ask during your next informational interview:
- How did you get the position you now hold?
- How do job hopefuls break into your industry?
- What’s your favorite thing about your current job?
- If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be?
- What’s the right kind of job in your industry for a person who’s skilled in [insert your own professional strong suit here]?
- What are some of the biggest challenges in your industry nowadays?
- How do you expect the industry to evolve over the coming 5 years?
- What are the most notable trade organizations that someone interested in your field should reach out to?
- What are your information sources, for keeping updated in this industry?
- What’s the typical career path in your field?