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How To Tackle an Informational Interview
If you’re looking to change careers, or you’ve just graduated, informational interviews are your secret weapon in the job search.
Informational interviews are informal conversations with professionals in your chosen field for the purposes of gathering information, locating resources, and making connections.
Not just a fantastic networking tool and an informal job interview, they can also get you insider information and industry-specific career advice that’s hard to get from anywhere else.
Follow these 6 steps to tackle the informational interview like the professional you are.
1. Asking For an Informational Interview
Interviewing the right people is just as critical as the questions you ask. But where to start?
Make a List
Just from the top of your head, write down a list of dream roles and specific companies you’d be thrilled to work at. Do a bit more research online to see if you’ve missed any key players in the industry.
Track Them Down
Get on LinkedIn and find the people who fill those roles. For instance, if you’re looking for a business development role in a technology company, scan their employee page for titles like Account Executive, Account Growth Manager, or Account Consultant. Getting an interview with someone high up in a big company can be tough. It may be wiser to pick someone working at a smaller company or start-up.
Reach out via LinkedIn or email. Make sure your message says why you’re reaching out, and what you’re asking. Be specific!
For instance, your message might say ‘Hi [Name], I’d love your help. My name is [Name], I’m considering a career move into your field. I’d love to take you out for a coffee and hear your thoughts on the industry and what your role is like at [Company]. I’m close to your area, so I’d be happy to meet up at any time convenient for you.’
Make sure you tell your potential interviewee why you’re specifically asking them instead of someone else. Did they work on an exciting project? Did they achieve something inspiring?
If you don’t hear back within two weeks, send a polite follow up. And then another one. People can be busy and forget to respond to emails. Persistence can pay off!
Now that you’ve landed the interview, it’s vital to show up well-informed. Do your research on the industry, companies and their career background before you meet face-to-face. Good places to start include Google, LinkedIn, the company website, annual reports and industry publications. Develop a list of informed questions, and write them down on your phone.
It’s also good form to be prepared for questions about yourself. Write down a list of goals and craft a persuasive elevator pitch. It’s not a bad idea to bring your resume along with you, but leave it in your bag unless they ask about it.
3. Make a Positive Impression
When the time comes to meet, treat it like a job interview. Dress professionally, show up early, and behave courteously.
Follow these steps for interview success:
Keep the Introduction Brief
Give a succinct introduction to yourself, your goals and your background. Keep it under 2 minutes. After all, you’re here to learn, not to talk about yourself.
Mention You're Seeking More Connections
Mention that you’re looking to chat to around 10 industry experts. Then your interviewee will know you’re looking for more connections, and they won’t be surprised when you ask them at the end.
Revisit How You're Connected.
Chat about the person who introduced you or the organisation you both belonged to find some common ground.
4. What Questions to Ask
Now that you’ve warmed up, it’s time to get the inside scoop.
Here are some sample questions:
- How did you get into this role?
- What do you enjoy about the job?
- What’s the worst part?
- Why did you choose this specific company over others?
- How do you feel about a particular development in the sector?
- What do you wish someone had told you when you first started out?
- Do you have any job search advice for a recent graduate/career changer?
Let the conversation flow, but be mindful of time. Let your interviewee know that you know their time is valuable, and that you understand if they need to leave when the time you’ve agreed on has passed.
5. Follow Up
When it’s time to wrap up, thank your interviewee for their time and for sharing their knowledge with you. Ask if there is anybody they can connect you with for your next interview and if possible see if they can introduce you.
Request a business card before they leave, and in the next day or so, send a hand-written thank-you note. Yes, of course, you could just email them, but we’re building relationships here. Be memorable with an extra personal touch.
6. Stay In Touch
The relationship shouldn’t finish once the interview is over. Keep in touch! The people you speak to can be resources, support and valuable connections over the next few years.
After a few weeks, reach out again to send them something useful, such as a relevant article or an invitation to an industry event. Or if one of their suggestions was of particular use to you – a book they recommended or a professional association you joined – let them know how it helped.
Informational interviewing is an excellent way to explore career paths while growing your professional network.
After all, it’s who you know that’s most important, right?
So get out there and start building relationships, getting the low-down, and making yourself visible.
After more career advice? Visit our Careers Hub for more tips, tricks and tools.
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