The key to a successful interview is preparation. Your skills and experience level don’t mean much if you go into an interview without doing your homework. Researching the company, the industry, and conducting a mock interview are all beneficial, but if you really want to do a deep dive, consider conducting an informational interview.
An informational interview isn’t the same as a job interview. Rather, it is an informal meeting or conversation with someone in your target industry/company to get a deep dive into that line of work. Indeed found a host of potential benefits of this type of interview, including:
- Learning how to research or screen careers, positions or employers
- Preparing for future job interviews
- Learning how to ask direct and follow-up questions
- Increasing network contacts
- Learning steps to pursue a potential career
- Recognizing your strengths and weaknesses for a potential role
An informational interview gets you something you can’t find from an online resource: a real person’s experiences and advice. If you think your job search could benefit from an informational interview or you’re looking to move into a new industry, we’ve done a little information gathering ourselves to help. Learn how to prepare for and conduct the most efficient fact-finding mission with these tenets.
Find the right contact
You’ve recognized that an informational interview will be advantageous, but where to start? Whether you’re a network novice or seasoned web-builder, chances are you can start with your own inner circle. If you already know someone in the industry or at your target company, excellent! Send them a message. If no one you know fits the bill, look to your friends, family, and professional contacts to see if they know a good fit. They may know the right person to assist and can introduce you.
If your network comes up empty, a good old-fashioned cold call (but actually email or direct message) can help! Look for someone in that company on LinkedIn or try searching in an alumni or professional group. LiveCarrer suggests being sincere and considerate when asking for a conversation. Remember, you’re asking this person for a favor. Be upfront and direct with your request. Make it clear you’re asking for help, but don’t ask for a job. You’re looking for information, and you’re hoping to learn from this person’s experience.
While the purpose of your interview is to gain knowledge, you can’t go into an informational interview completely clueless. Compile enough background information to sound credible. You want this informational interview to support the information you’re able to find on your own, and merely asking someone the basics you could easily find online is a waste of both parties’ time. Mac Prichard suggests coming up with one clear objective you’d like to gain from the conversation and tailoring your preparation to it.
“What’s the #1 thing I can learn from this connection to help me on my career path?” -Mac Prichard
As Jennifer Winter of The Muse reminds, your contact is taking time out of their day to talk with you free of charge. Respect their time by doing your homework beforehand. Research their history and find common ground with them. Not only will you look prepared and professional, but they’ll feel honored you’re familiar with their work. A bit of flattery is always nice.
Ask useful questions
An informational interview shouldn’t be long—maybe about 15-30 minutes at most. You want to get as much useful info as possible, so it’s important to maximize your time by asking great questions. Have a specific list of questions prepared beforehand and keep them organized.
Harvard Business Review cited author Dorie Clark, who suggested approaching the interview like a journalist. “Gently probe through curiosity, then listen.” You don’t want to feel like a cross-examiner or be pushy. You’re asking the questions, but let your contact determine how they answer. You’re there for their expertise, so whatever they choose to answer with is probably what they view as important information.
The Balance Careers’ Alison Doyle has a magnificent list of questions you can ask your contact, divided into occupational and functional questions. A blend of both will give you a superb look at both the big picture aspects of the role and what the day-to-day looks like.
An informational interview can be an invaluable tool to assist in your job search, especially if you’re breaking into a new industry. These conversations are a great way to use the network you’ve created to get insider information you wouldn’t find in traditional research. Remember to find the right contact, do your homework beforehand, and make the most of your limited time by asking useful questions. There are so many resources out there for networking and learning about your chosen industry. Don’t be afraid to use them!
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