With apologies to Mick Jagger, while an informational interview may not get you the job you want, you just might find you get what you need: Useful, insightful information about a job, a career or an industry; information that has the potential of yielding both short and long-term benefits, not only with respect to any job search you may currently be conducting but for long-term professional development as well.
Before we get into what an informational interview is and what it can do for you, let’s be clear about what it isn’t: A job interview. In fact, you’ll torch whatever goodwill you’ve accumulated with the person you’re seeing if you attempt to take advantage of the time that has graciously been put aside for you for any purpose other than what you’ve stated. An informational interview provides you the chance to sit down and speak with someone in the industry in a relaxed, conversational setting in which you have permission to ask questions that might not otherwise be appropriate in a “regular” job interview. If you turn it into anything else, not only will you defeat the purpose of the meeting, but you’ll likely reduce your professional network by at least one person.
Before you commence pursuit of informational interview opportunities, some housekeeping is required.
- Take inventory. Assess what it is you’re attempting to accomplish so that you’re not spending time needlessly on something that, at the end of the day, does not yield any positive benefits.
- “Keepin’ it real”. Determine what you are really interested in and whether your pursuit is realistic. No, really.
If you’re honest and diligent when taking these two steps, you’ll be able to pin down what it is you want to accomplish and focus on which questions are best suited to get the information you’re after.
So, how do you get the most value from an information interview? There are, of course, many suggestions you can follow, more than we can include here. However, there are some that experience has shown are highly effective in deriving as much benefit from informational interviews as possible, including:
- Tap into your existing network. Reaching out to those with whom you already have a connection, either for a meeting or for a referral, takes the edge off.
- Prepare. Whether meeting with someone you know or a complete stranger, there is no better way to demonstrate that you value their time than by being on time, appropriately dressed and organized.
Remember, this is chance to conduct what is essentially an interview in reverse. In a way, you are in control. Ask meaningful questions (including those not usually appropriate for regular interviews) including:
- Wage range for the profession I’m considering?
- A description of what a normal day looks like for specific jobs in the industry?
- Typical corporate culture?
- Industry trends?
- Recent developments and challenges in the field?
- What are the skills/characteristics/traits common to people who succeed in the career I’m considering?
- What should someone like me know when applying for work in the field?
- What questions should I be asking/type or information I should be researching going forward?
- Are there changes I should make to my resume that will bolster my chances of being interviewed?
- Do you know anyone else who might be open to talking to me?
- Given our discussion, is there an alternate career path that you think might be appropriate me?
Although certainly not an exhaustive list, these questions and others like them will help you improve your communication skills and, of course, fine tune your job search. And whatever you do, remember to say thank you.