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Have you ever gotten the itch to try a new career but didn’t know if it would be a smart move?
What if you could ask someone everything you needed to know before making the big switch?
The good news is, you can do that. It’s called an informational interview.
Let’s take a look at what an informational interview is, how they are conducted, and why they’re beneficial for a career.
What is an informational interview?
An informational interview is a conversation with someone in a specific career field. The goal is to get a better understanding of what their job is like.
Informational interviewing is not a job interview or always part of a job search. It’s a tool that a job seeker can use to find out more information about a career path they’re interested in.
For instance, a soon-to-be college graduate may go through informational interviews to decide what kind of job they think they’d want after graduation.
Or an intern may conduct informational interviews to see which niche they want to specialize in.
What is the purpose of informational interviews?
As of 2020, the average time spent in a job is about four years. This means most of us will change roles, companies, and career paths, more than once in our lives.
If you want to take a different path in life, an informational interview can help. It's an excellent way to gather information about an area of interest before you go applying for new jobs. Regardless of whether they are just at a new company, or in a completely different field.
Scheduling informational interviews can also boost your career and professional self-esteem.
Conducting a few informational interviews can be more valuable than what you can find online.
This insight equips and empowers you to take the right steps, meet with the right people, and make the right choices so you can land your dream job.
Informational interviews can help you:
- Raise your confidence when you go into a real interview with an employer
- Expand your professional network
- Practice your interviewing skills
- Get your foot in the door
- Gain insight into a specific career field
- Understand what steps you need to take to land a job
5 benefits of informational interviews:
Besides the benefits we’ve already discussed, conducting informational interviews can help you:
1. Understand what it’s like to work at a specific organization
If you’re interested in working at a specific organization, informational interviews can help you see what it’s like to work there. They can show you everything from what the work is like to the culture of the company.
To get an even better understanding, make sure to meet employees from a few competing organizations as well.
2. Get insider information
Informational interviews give you insider tips you may not be able to find elsewhere.
For instance, learning how to land a position or getting the scoop on salary and benefit plans.
These insights can help you strengthen your job application. They can also help you prepare for both the positive and negative sides of the industry you’re interested in.
3. Determine if you need more training or certification
Informational interviews can help you find out if you’re lacking a specific skill or certification for the position you’re going for.
For instance, let's say you’re a school principal interested in becoming a district-wide superintendent. You may find out that you need a doctoral degree instead of a master’s degree.
4. Interview without pressure
Job interviews come with added stress and pressure to do and say the right things. But informational interviews put you in the driver’s seat.
You’re in control of the interview questions. You can talk about what would be expected of you on a daily basis. And you can discuss other points related to your interests and feelings.
Being in the driver’s seat also helps you build self-confidence for future job interviews.
5. Uncover if there’s a barrier to entry
Informational interviews help you uncover if something is standing in the way of you and your dream career.
For instance, you may uncover that the position you’re interested in requires five years of previous experience in the same field.
How to find people to interview:
Finding the right people to have a chat with is easier than you may think. If you’re unsure how to find people to interview, try these strategies:
- Ask on social media: you might be surprised to find out that someone you know is already in the position you're aspiring toward. Posting a simple status like, “Hi! Are any of my friends a project manager?” is a great starting point.
- Call a hiring manager: who better to interview for the position you’re going for than a hiring manager? Just make sure to meet with a hiring manager from a different organization than the one you're applying to.
- Check an alumni directory: online alumni directories are typically public record. They allow you to see a variety of information for all alumni. This may include their name, degree information, contact information, industry, and specialty.
You can also ask a career counselor for contacts in your aspiring field. Or you can ask them if they specialize in your career choice. You can also go to career fairs to talk to employers who are running booths.
How to ask for an informational interview
Many career professionals enjoy helping others succeed as long as they have the time for it.
To help increase your chances of landing an informational interview, make it as easy as possible for the person you’re interviewing.
For instance, offer to take them out to lunch (or coffee) or to jump on a video call or regular phone call if they are pressed for time.
Explain why you’re requesting an informational interview and who you are. Be clear and concise.
For instance, you could say: “Hi Sara, my name is Tiffany Thornton, intern for Dr. Michelle Brown. I’m calling because I’m interested in becoming a family counselor, and I hear you’re the best person to gain insight from. Can I take you out for lunch or meet you on a video call to discuss what that career path looks like?”
How to prepare for an informational interview: 6 steps
Here are six steps for preparing for an informational interview:
Step 1: Do your own research
Doing some career exploration on your own is essential. This means doing some initial research on the career field and/or employer you’re interested in. This will help you get a basic understanding of what that career is like and what credentials you’ll need.
For instance, if you’re interested in being a nurse, do an online search to see what kind of formal education and license is required.
You can still ask the interviewee what their career trajectory was like too. But make sure you lead with the information you gathered, so they know you did your homework.
Step 2: Find people to interview
Once you’re clear on the basic details of your career path, look for people to interview. Remember to check LinkedIn and your current network of friends, family and classmates.
If you’re still struggling to find someone to interview, head to a career fair or meet with a career counselor.
Step 3: Prepare an introduction
Preparing an introduction is essential to kicking off the interview to a good start. Keep it brief and simple.
For instance, you can reiterate your name, your career goals, and what you hope to accomplish by the end of the meeting. You can also ask them to introduce themselves or to share something unique about them (like why they decided to pursue their current career path).
Step 4: Prepare a list of informational interview questions
Prepare interview questions ahead of time. Make sure each question is open-ended and covers something you may not be able to find out on your own. Don’t worry about having them all memorized either. Remember, informational interviews are often less formal and no one is expecting a robot.
Here’s a list of 14 sample informational interview questions to help give you an idea:
- How’d you get into this line of work?
- How can I get into this line of work?
- What do you enjoy most about your job?
- What are the most important skills for this job?
- What do you most dislike about your job?
- How would you predict the next 5, 10, and 20 years in this line of work?
- What do you wish you would've known before you started this role?
- I know this role requires a graduate school degree — what else do you recommend?
- What kind of experience would I need for this job, and how would I get it?
- What keywords should I use in a resume, job application, and job interview?
- What’s the range of salaries and benefits for this job?
- What kind of hours or schedule would I have in this role?
- What do you find the most meaningful about your work?
- How much autonomy and creativity would I have in this role?
Step 5: Practice a mock interview
Grab a friend or colleague and practice your introduction and interview questions.
Not only will this help you feel more prepared for your official interview, but it may also reveal other interview questions you should ask.
Step 6: Schedule the interviews
After you’ve found people to interview, send them an email.
You can say something simple, like, “Hello Mrs. Smith, my name is Tanya Redding, and I’m a Journalism student at UNT. I’m not looking for a job currently, but I am interested in learning more about your work as a TV news reporter. Would you be free for a short 20 to 30-minute interview at your convenience so I can ask a few questions about how to prepare to enter the field?"
It’s also important to be ready to ask questions on the spot if the interviewee says they won’t be available any other time. This is why it’s beneficial to prepare specific questions ahead of time before scheduling interviews.
How to conduct an informational interview: 5 informational interview tips
Here are five informational interview tips to help you conduct a successful interview:
Although it’s okay to show your personality, remember that each interview is a business appointment, not a night out with friends. Conduct yourself in a professional manner. Show up to the interview a few minutes early. And don’t dress too casual or formal — regular business attire is perfect.
Know who you’re interviewing
Make sure to research the person you’re interviewing ahead of time. You’ll need to know how to pronounce their name correctly, what title they currently have, and what company they work for.
Use Google or LinkedIn to do some research on their career history as well.
Lead the conversation
Remember that you, the interviewer, are in the driver’s seat. Be prepared to start, steer, and end the conversation appropriately.
Respect the interviewee’s time
Be considerate of the interviewee’s time. Try to keep the conversation between 20–30 minutes. You can set aside five minutes for the introduction, 10–15 minutes to ask questions, and 5–10 minutes to wrap up the conversation.
Tip 5: Be prepared to answer questions
Your contact might ask you questions too, so be ready to answer some basic questions or come ready with an elevator pitch about yourself.
Follow up: how to finish informational interviews
How you end an informational interview is just as important as how you start one. Make sure you conclude and leave a good impression by:
- Expressing gratitude: thank the interviewee for their time.
- Summarizing key points: briefly summarize their answers to your questions.
- Getting clarity: ask for clarity about any answers you’re unsure about.
- Following up: send a handwritten note or an email after the meeting thanking them for their helpful information.
- Cultivating a long-term relationship: keep up with the interviewee over time. Don’t think of the interview as a one-time meeting — the goal is to develop a future ally and supporter.
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Examples of informational interviews
Informational interviews are great for aspiring real estate agents, entrepreneurs, and medical professionals. But you can conduct them for any profession you need more clarity about.
For instance, here are two informational interview examples:
Informational interview example 1
Rachel, an education major, is trying to decide which age group she’d enjoy teaching the most. After combing through an alumni directory, she sets up six informational interviews. Some are with elementary school teachers, some with high-school teachers, and some are professors.
She prepares her introduction, questions, and elevator pitch ahead of time. And she shows up on time. She has four positive interviews and two decent interviews. Later, Rachel receives an email from one of the teachers. They offer to have her on board as a student-teacher when she graduates.
The student teaching position leads to a full-time teaching position. Fast forward ten years, Rachel is now a school principal for one of the most prestigious schools in Connecticut.
Informational interview example 2
Todd, a digital marketer, wants to own a marketing agency. After searching through LinkedIn, he sets up three informational interviews. Each interview is with an entrepreneur who owns a marketing agency.
After the first interview, Todd almost loses hope. His interviewee tells him the industry is too competitive and his chances of success are slim. But after the other interviews, Todd remembers that with hard work, anything is possible.
After cultivating relationships with his interviewees, Todd partners with one to create an agency.
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