The Informational Interview: What is it and why is it important?
CHARLESTON, S.C. - Sometimes the most current and specific information about a career field may not be available online. You may find the most helpful information comes from people who are currently working in the field.
An informational interview is an informal conversation you can have with someone working in an area of interest to you. It is not a job interview, but something that you need to prepare for and act professional during the process as if it were a job interview. Some even refer to this as “job shadowing”, as you will be following in the footsteps of someone executing their tasks of the day.
Though underused, the informational interview might be the most important non-interview you have because it can potentially build your network and lead you to finding the career you desire.
Informational interviewing has many benefits:
- Opportunity to get firsthand information about the realities of working within a field, industry, or position.
- Get tips and insider knowledge about how to prepare for and land the career position.
- Learn what it is like to work at a specific organization.
- Cultivate a professional relationship and expand your network of contacts in a specific career field.
- Meet people who may forward job leads to you in the future.
A few steps to consider helping lead you to a successful informational interview are identifying who to interview, preparing what to ask, and planning your follow-up to the interview.
- Identify people to interview
Start by making a list of companies you would love to work for and specific jobs you find interesting. Check your own contacts and existing networks (friends, family, and acquaintances) as well as resources like LinkedIn to connect with people working in careers that interest to you. If there are not people in your current network, look for a shared connection. The resource LinkedIn is a good source to connect with people in various career fields. Check with an Alumni network to identify people who went to the same university as you did.
For tips on how to ask for the interview, read this article from Indeed.com
- Prepare for the interview
Do your research. Research the company, the industry, and the person you planning to meet with. Start with online tools like Google and LinkedIn but consider databases available at CCPL libraries like Reference Solutions (formerly Reference USA) or Business Insights: Essentials to obtain information on companies, industry highlights, and executive profiles. As you formulate the list of questions for the informational interview, you should make sure to include questions about the person’s career path, things they wish they had known, what they love about their job, and even what they may find challenging.
Click here to access the Indeed.com article Information Interview Questions. 12 timely questions to ask in an informational interview are offered.
- Initiate Contact
Contact the person by email or phone. Be sure to mention how you accessed his or her name. Emphasize that you are looking for information, not a job. If you reach the person by phone, ask whether it’s a good time to talk for a few minutes. If the person is not available when you call, ask for a convenient time to have a 20-30 minutes appointment. Be ready to ask questions on the spot if the person says it is a good time for him/her and that he/she will not be readily available otherwise. If the latter is offered, you should have your elevator speech prepared. The elevator speech is a clear, brief message about you and what you offer. It is the opportunity for you to show how you can add value to a company or organization. Keep it short, usually about 30 seconds, which is the time it takes people to ride from the top to the bottom of a building in an elevator. Click here to view the video Creating an Elevator Speech which was created by a member of the CCPL Workforce Development Taskforce Team.
- Conduct the informational interview by arriving on time and dressing neatly and appropriately, as you would for a job interview.
- Bring your list of questions and take notes if you like.
- Restate that your objective is to get information and advice, not a job.
- Be prepared to direct the interview, but also let the conversation flow naturally and encourage the interviewee to do most of the talking.
- Respect the person’s time. Limit the meeting to the agreed-upon timeframe.
- Ask the person if you may contact them again in the future with other questions.
- Ask for names of other people to meet, to gain different perspectives.
- If you ask them to meet over coffee or a meal, be sure to pay for yourself as well as the person you invited.
- Follow-Up After the Interview
Keep records. Write down what you learned, what you would like to know, and next steps you plan to take. Send a thank you note. It can be an email but personalizing the ‘thank you’ with a handwritten note is recommended. Send the thank you note within 1-2 days to express your appreciation for the time and information given. Keep in touch with the person, especially if you had a nice interaction; They may ask you to keep them updated on your progress. If so, be sure to do so. People are genuinely interested in your successes, especially if they helped you along the way. It is also a nice validating gesture to let them know you followed up on their advice and had a successful outcome.
With a little bit of practice and self-patience, you will be ready to take on the next steps in your future career. If you would like more information about how to apply for jobs online, assistance in finding resources, tips on how to get the job-hunting process started or more, please reach out to us at CCPL by email, chat, or text. Remember, you are not alone.