Ever wanted to learn more about a certain industry? What better way to do so than by speaking with someone who is involved in it every day! Informational interviews are your window into an industry that you are interested in breaking into from a first-person perspective.
While these can seem sort of awkward since you are literally just picking an individual’s brain about what they do on a daily basis, they are a great way to network. In conducting these interviews, you are building relationships with individuals at a company or industry of interest, thus expanding your professional network.
This great networking tool may seem sort of awkward at first, since it is likely the first time where the roles of an interview are reversed. Instead of being interviewed for a position, you are on the “other side of the table” interviewing someone in a position you aspire to be in one day. To help out job seekers, Jennifer Winter of The Muse created a five-step guide for you to get the most out of your informational interviews (read the full article here).
1. Don’t be afraid to ask.
While it certainly takes some courage to blindly reach out to someone and ask for a few minutes of their time, people generally want to help others. If anything, the fact that someone wants to pick their brain about their job could be an ego boost. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know whether or not the individual would be willing to accommodate your request – the worst thing they can say is no.
2. Do your research.
Just like any other interview, you must prepare accordingly. Research the individual’s background, company and industry as a whole. “Proper planning prevents poor performance,” rings true, as you don’t want to waste either of your time. Additionally, by doing your research, you might stand out to the individual, so if/when their company is hiring in the future they could think of you to fill the role.
3. Prepare your questions.
Building on the above point, by doing your research and preparing you should find some questions to ask. While this does not need to be an interrogation, having some questions to kick off the conversation is a good way to make sure the flow is not awkward and forced. Unless you have some hot topic questions that you want answered, you don’t need to ask all of them. As long as the conversation is flowing, it will be easier to ask your questions.
4. Keep it short.
The individual is likely taking time out of their busy day to accommodate you, so it is important to be wary of how long the interview is going. If the conversation is going well, suggest a follow up meeting or phone call to get more information. Not only does it give you an excuse to have another meeting, but it also is the first step towards establishing a relationship which could open doors in the future.
When it comes to monitoring your time, Winter suggests wearing a watch as it is more professional than glancing down at your phone. Although this isn’t a job interview, maintaining the professional nature of the meeting is still important.
5. Cement the connection.
Regardless of whether or not you set the stage for another meeting, following up with the person you interviewed is key. Winter mentions going the extra mile and finding an article related to a topic you discussed and emailing it to the individual with your thank you note. A crucial component to follow ups is doing so in a timely manner. Not only does this show diligence, but also that you sincerely appreciated the person taking the time to speak with you about their career.
Informational interviews are one of the easiest ways to build your network. They are often one-on-one (as opposed to group settings at networking events) and you have the chance to ask with someone for advice and guidance on breaking into a certain industry, their job, etc. People generally want to help others, especially when they are sought after, so take the chance to reach out to people. As is the case with most aspects of life, the more informational interviews you conduct, the better you will become at them.
You never know when someone you spoke to will come back into your life, especially as it relates to your career. Informational interviews can open doors for you that might not previously have been available. Plus, by conducting these interviews, you establish a contact at a company that you are interested in, so if you follow the five aforementioned tips, you will have a step up on the competition.