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The Informational Interview: A Key Networking Event
The “informational interview” is an invaluable resource and a welcome addition to any job seeker’s toolkit.
Any resourceful job-seeker will have relatively little trouble unearthing key information about target industries as well as specific companies and job descriptions. Industry publications and journals abound and in addition to company annual reports, advertising materials and websites, there are a plethora of industry and market websites on-line that lend current and relevant information for the diligent job-seeker. There is no substitute however for meeting people within the industry and getting the key facts firsthand and for this reason, the “informational interview” is an invaluable resource and a welcome addition to any job-seeker’s toolkit.
What is an “informational interview”?
The “informational interview” is a formal meeting between a job-seeker and a professional in the industry used by the job-seeker to gather key data about the market, the industry, the specific company and the position targeted. It is a forum for job-seekers to learn about the industry and company from an “insider” and to ask questions that are best answered by some-one already in the field. Beside being a vital forum for gathering key information firsthand, the information interview can also propel the job search forward by providing a springboard for Research the industry and companies you are looking to enter and identify a professional who is in your preferred role and in a senior enough capacity to be able to give appropriate information about the industry and company in general as well as about specific job prospects in the field.
Once you have identified the target professional, send him/her a letter requesting no more than 30 minutes of their time for an informational interview to learn more about the industry and the position you are targeting. Introduce yourself with a brief summary of your experience and career objectives and make it clear that you are not approaching them for a job but merely to lean more about the industry from a seasoned, successful professional.
To facilitate matters, try to get a referral from someone you know – ex-employers, friends, family, neighbors or someone already at that company, so that you are not calling entirely cold. Alumni associations are very helpful in this instance; contact your alma mater’s alumni association for names of professionals who work in your target company/field and approach them making it clear that you went to the same university and got their name form the alumni association. Fellow alumni are usually more than happy to meet with you, offer needed advice and point you in the right direction.
How do you conduct an informational interview?
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Make sure you arrive at the informational interview prepared with a list of questions pertinent to your jobhunt and research activities and that you respect the professional’s time. Take a CV with you and give it to the interviewee then spend a few minutes introducing yourself, your experience and your present career objective ending with what you hope to achieve by way of information-gathering from this meeting.
Sample questions you may want answered during the interview include:
- “How did you get started in this industry?”
- “What are the prospects for the industry/ company in your opinion in the next 5 years?”
- “What does it take to enter this field of work?”
- “How should I approach my job hunt? Are there any specific companies you know of that are hiring?”
- “What does a typical day on the job look like?”
- “What skills are key to success in this role?”
- “What do you like most about your role? What do you like least?”
- “What is the most challenging aspect of your job?”
- “Do you have any advice for me as a job-seeker wishing to enter this field given my past experience?”
- “Are there any courses you recommend I take to supplement my CV?”
- “What industry associations or journals would you recommend for me to learn more about this field?”
Treat the information interview as you would a formal interview, dressing in conservative business attire, arriving early, behaving professionally, having the company and industry well researched before-hand and to the extent possible, also researching the career and successes of the professional you are interviewing. Listen attentively, take notes and make sure you do not rudely interrupt or act overly controlling in the interview – the interviewee may well have relevant advice and factoids for you that do not fall specifically within your line of questioning. Thank the interviewee sincerely for his time after the interview and do not hesitate to ask him if he can refer you to anyone else in the industry that may be hiring or may serve as an additional springboard for your networking activities. Beside the information gathered on your target company and occupation, getting further referrals is a key objective of an informational interview.
What to expect from an informational interview
There are four key benefits of an informational interview:
- Firstly, by preparing with adequate questions and building a good rapport with the professional being interviewed, you will gain invaluable insight from an insider on your target industry and company as well as the skills required to enter and excel in your target occupation. The information you gather will be up-to-date and directly relevant as you are getting it first-hand from an industry practitioner.
- Secondly, you will gain important visibility, widen your professional network and gain invaluable referrals in the industry if the interviewee is accommodating and gives you the names of peers in the industry who may be of further help. These referrals may well end up revealing a position in the pipeline that you were not previously aware of.
- Thirdly, informational interviews are an excellent forum to build confidence, reduce anxiety and prepare for real job interviews when a position does arise. Many job-seekers gain significant composure and self-esteem from conducting these interviews, particularly if they have been interviewing for jobs for a while and meeting with negative responses. These interviews are a great method to practice talking with a seasoned professional in your target field and asking and answering questions without experiencing rejection.
- Fourthly, the informational interview will aid you in clarifying your career goals as you explore different career paths and learn more about the different roles, skills required and responsibilities entailed from an experienced insider.
What happens after the information interview?
Your information interview is a key networking event and you should aim to leverage the contact you made to build a professional long-term relationship. Follow up with a thank-you note after the meeting and then periodically keep the interviewee informed of milestones in your job hunt and in your career in general. The interviewee may well end up at a later stage either hiring himself or referring you to a peer in the industry who is hiring or is a mo re effective springboard for networking and information gathering activities. Beside the importance of the information you gather in propelling your job search forward, there is no substitute in the long-run for having a close personal rapport with peers in the industry to advance your personal and professional network.
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