Informational Interviewing: what is it and why you need to do it
About 90% of the candidates that I work with have not heard of at informational interviewing. Of those who have heard of it, I’ve almost never come across anyone who’s tried it. Here’s what it is, and why it’s important in your job search.
Wikipedia defines an informational interview as “a meeting in which a job seeker asks for career and industry advice rather than employment.” It’s an opportunity to sit down with someone who currently works in the field, or (even better) the company that you’re interested to work for in the future. It gives you the opportunity to learn more about the career path that you’re interested in. Its awesomeness as a networking opportunity should not be understated either.
Setting up an informational interview isn’t hard. If you know the person you’d like to talk to, simply give them a call or e-mail them with your request. If you don’t know them yet, ask a friend to introduce you or reach out via e-mail or LinkedIn. Explain that you’re trying to learn more about their industry, and they seem like a great person to learn from. Make it clear that you will only take up a predetermined amount of time. 30 minutes is fairly standard. Offer to take them for coffee or meet via phone at a time that is convenient to them.
The key in getting a meeting is to cater to the other person’s schedule. Realize that their time is valuable, and you are getting something that you need: information and face time. This is not the time to be rigid in your scheduling. If they only have availability that conflicts with something you had planned, consider reorganizing your own plans.
When you do land the meeting, be prepared. Come with a list of ten questions that you can pull from as needed. Ask the person about their typical day, about challenges in the industry, and in how they broke into the industry.
Do not ask the person if they will hire you. Do not ask how much they make. And certainly, do not ask them to find a job for you. None of these are the purpose of your meeting. You’re trying to learn more about the person, and their job. People don’t mind sharing about their own job. But, when you start to ask about a job for you, you’re really crossing the line and asking for a favor that the person didn’t sign up for. On the flip side, if they voluntarily tell you about a position they’re hiring for, go for it!
I’d like to share a success story with you to demonstrate the power of informational interviewing. As part of my coaching with the Volunteer Odyssey program, I set each job seeker up for one informational interview. I select someone in the community who works in the same field that the Volunteer Odyssey participant aspires to work in. One of these job seekers was Brittany. Brittany is interested in marketing, so I set her up for an informational interview with a friend who works at an advertising agency in Memphis.
What happened next blows me away. Not surprisingly, their meeting was successful. Then, my friend introduced Brittany to the entire advertising agency and gave her a tour of the office. Last, my friend promised to introduce Brittany to her contacts at 8 other organizations. That’s right, 8!
Can you imagine how your network might grow if you begin to reach out to professionals in your community this way? They will offer you advice that will be valuable in your search. They also may begin to introduce you to their network, or help you look for a job.
The level of success of an informational interview will be determined both by you, the other person, and honestly, how well you ‘click’ with them. Know that every informational interview will not turn out as great as Brittany’s, but you will gain something valuable from each one.