A valuable (yet all too often overlooked) aspect of a job search is the informational interview. This is a type of networking wherein you ask an industry professional for a meeting to introduce yourself, discuss your interests and objectives, and gain insider knowledge that will help you progress within your job search. But what are the foundations of a successful informational interview? Below, we have eight tips to help you make the most out of the conversation.
Don’t be afraid to reach out
First things first, don’t shy away from reaching out to someone. Maybe you met them at a networking event, or perhaps they came to speak to your class. In any case, though it can be nerve-racking to contact someone you don’t know well and ask if they can meet up with you, taking that plunge can end up reaping numerous benefits. And don’t worry about someone being annoyed at having been asked — after all, who wouldn’t feel flattered at the thought that someone thinks their input is worthwhile!
Do your research
As with any other interview, you’ll want to have some understanding of the industry and the person you’re speaking with. Be sure you’re walking in with at least basic knowledge of your prospective field, as well as your interviewee. This will not only help you make a good impression by showcasing your preparedness, but also inform what you ask and ensure you get the most out of your time.
Have a list of questions prepared
You’re here to ask questions, so you should have them ready and organized to help the conversation flow — but also, be prepared to adapt depending on the direction the discussion takes. Ask about the average day-to-day of the job, as well as their own personal thoughts and experiences that they’ve had in the field. Ultimately, think about what you truly want to know about your prospective career and frame questions around that.
Once you have your questions ready, it’s time to practice. Ask a friend, family member, or someone within your school’s career services if they can assist you, or simply practice in front of a mirror. In doing so, you’ll help yourself get more comfortable speaking and can hone your energy and body language to best fit the setting.
Keep in mind the purpose of an informational interview
It’s important to remember why you’ve asked for an informational interview, and it’s not to ask for a job or for favors. It’s to gain insights into what it’s like to work in the field, as well as to make connections. The person you’re meeting can provide you with invaluable assistance, but you risk alienating them if you ask for things outside the scope of the meeting.
Be succinct in your introduction
While an informational interview is less formal than a job interview, you don’t want to fall into the trap of chatting too much at the beginning — otherwise, you might run out of time and miss something useful that could have been shared. Keep things professional and succinct when talking about yourself, and avoid going into too many unnecessary details or topics.
Have clear goals for your career
This person is here to help you get to where you want to be. However, it can be difficult if you don’t know where that is. Of course, you certainly don’t need to have a fully fleshed out 10-year plan, but by holding at least some ideas of what you’d like to do, the meeting will be more productive for everyone. Is there a certain location you’d like to live in? What type of company would you want to work for? Is there an industry subset that interests you most? Create an outline of your goals, to enable your interviewee to better guide you towards them.
Stay in touch
Remember, one of the purposes of an informational interview is to make connections, so it’s essential to maintain contact with them. Follow up after the interview to thank them for their time, and reach out occasionally for updates and additional questions you may have. You never know, they may come across a job opening and can get your foot in the door, or introduce you to others who can further expand your network.