Informational Interviews: The Hidden Gem of Career Exploration
Know more about informational interviews
Narrowing down your career path can be extremely complicated and daunting when there are so many options. Informational interviews are an excellent strategy for gaining some clarity. An informational interview is a one-on-one conversation with a professional who is doing something or working somewhere that’s interesting to you. This is a style of networking that’s shorter and slightly less formal than a traditional job interview, but can give you extremely valuable results.
The goal of an informational interview is to learn about a person’s daily life at work. You should be gathering information about their career and the company they work for, NOT asking for a job. The information you gain and the connections you make during informational interviews can very likely lead to job opportunities, but if your intention going in is solely to get a job, the conversation may seem inauthentic to the other person. Take it slow and leverage informational interviews for their true purpose; to find a career path and learn what you need to do to follow that path.
In addition to making connections that can lead to career clarity and job opportunities, informational interviews are great practice for job interviews in the future. Even though they’re a little more casual, you should use informational interviews as an opportunity to fine-tune your professional nonverbal and verbal communication skills so you’ll be ready when you start applying for jobs.
Effects of Informational Interviews
Here’s what it would look like to add informational interviews to your career exploration and job searching plan:
Make a List of People
Collect a list of people who are doing something you’re interested in or working for a company that you would like to learn more about. These can be people you already know or completely new faces. Search for contacts using company websites, LinkedIn, and social media. Think of where your friends and family work, too! Even if you don’t end up reaching out to everyone on your list, it’s good to have several options before you dive in.
Craft personalized messages or emails to kindly ask the people on your list if they would be willing to meet with you. Start with just a few contacts so your schedule doesn’t get overwhelming. When you reach out, be mindful of your written communication. You want to appear genuine, friendly, and professional while avoiding leaving a bad impression due to spelling and grammar mistakes. Here is an example of a short message that you could send to a possible informational interview contact:
I hope your week is going well! I’m gathering some information on possible career paths and your LinkedIn profile really stood out to me. Your job with Tyler Technologies sounds very interesting! Would you be willing to set up a Zoom call or grab some coffee so I could learn more about what you do?
Be Mindful of Time
Throughout the entire informational interview process, be mindful of the other person’s time. They most likely have a very full schedule, so try to be flexible with the times that you offer for your meeting. And during the interview, make sure you arrive on time and stick to the length of time the two of you set for the interview. They will appreciate and notice your respectful actions!
To prepare for your informational interview, it’s helpful to do some research. Learn what you can about the person you’re interviewing, the company they work for, and the career field in general. In addition, outline how you will introduce yourself at the interview, test the software you’ll be using if the interview is virtual, review your travel plans if the interview is in-person, and plan your professional outfit!
Finally, create a list of approximately 10 questions before your interview. These questions should be focused on the other person’s daily work and the company as a whole.
Here are a few example questions:
- What are the most interesting aspects of your job?
- What kinds of experiences would best prepare someone for your job?
- What is your typical day like at work?
- What aspects of your job do you find most challenging/rewarding?
- What are the top skills that are necessary in your field?
- What are trends in your career field and industry that would be helpful for me to learn about?
- How would you describe the culture at this company?
- Why did you choose to work for this company?
- Based on our conversation, do you have any colleagues that would be a good connection for me to make?
Go to the Interview & Ask Questions
Use your list of questions as a guide during the informational interview, but try not to read directly from them like a script. Let the conversation flow naturally and use your list of questions as more of a reference. And you might not get to all of your questions; that’s perfectly fine!
Send a personalized email or handwritten thank-you note to the person you interviewed 24-48 hours after the interview. This will leave a great impression and it’s a simple way to let them know you appreciate their time and advice.
Finally, take some time to reflect on your informational interview experience. Ask yourself these questions to make the most of your efforts:
- Do I think that their job would be a good fit for me?
- What interested me about the company that they work for?
- How can I better prepare for future informational interviews?
- What are my next steps?
So as you can see, informational interviews are a low-pressure way to get a real-life view of different career paths and make connections that can lead to job opportunities down the road. One of the best ways to know if a career will work for you is to talk to someone who is already doing it. Just a simple 30-minute conversation can turn your future from a mystery into a crystal-clear picture!
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