Informational Interviews: something that you hear mentioned more often these days, but do you really know what they are? How can you use them to benefit you in your own life, and what do you need to know?
I consider informational interviews to be one of the most valuable tools and by far one of the most underutilized opportunities available to you when evaluating a field you want to work or intern in, and in mapping out a course to get you to your desired career destination.
What is an informational Interview?
An informational interview is a meeting between you and a professional or hiring manager who works in a career field that you are interested in joining. It is a chance for you ask an industry insider about the journey that got them to their current position, specifics regarding the industry they work in and their particular office culture, and a chance to get advice from them about how to make yourself a competitive candidate for jobs in the future.
How to start and continue setting up informational interviews:
It might seem like a daunting task starting out, but setting up informational interviews will get easier the more practice you get. Start by searching your personal and professional networks now – have you connected with a professor that might be able to provide you some contacts or introductions? Do you have a previous boss or internship supervisor who you remain in touch with? Does a relative or family friend know people in your desired career field?
Be bold and approach people in your current network, and explain why you are interested in setting up informational interviews – ask for introductions to individuals you can approach for a 20-30 minute phone call or in-person meeting over coffee to have a career-based conversation.
As you begin to reach out to professionals, make sure you are formal and appreciative in all your correspondence with them – address them with formal salutations, sign off your emails with appreciation, and dress professionally for any in-person meetings.
Tips to make the most of your informational interviews:
1. Create a list of questions
Based on your interests and the research you have conducted into the career field you may want to enter, think about what types of questions you would most benefit from asking someone currently working in your desired field. Be specific, targeted, and make sure to individually tailor the types of questions you want to ask each person you meet with. For example, if you are broadly interested in broadcast journalism, broad questions about the industry can apply to anyone you meet with, but for more specialized questions you would ask a content developer something different from someone whose job is post production or on-air talent. Make sure you are asking the appropriate questions of the appropriate parties.
2. Do your research ahead of your meeting
The person you are meeting with is taking time from their day to speak with you and offer their insight on their experiences and the journey that got them to where they are today – make sure you are well researched before you meet or speak with them. Look into their specific company or organization. That research will make your list of questions begin to seem clearer. If they work at an organization you can see yourself employed with one day, learn what you can from their website and ask about new initiatives they may be working on, and don’t be afraid to ask how you can more specifically prepare yourself to be a competitive candidate within their organization down the road.
3. Be respectful of your contact’s time
Be mindful that the person you are meeting with is taking time to speak with you, so I suggest keeping your time frame to about 30 minutes for a coffee meeting or phone chat, unless they specify that they can be available for longer. If they suggest meeting for lunch or in-office meeting, you can typically plan to have the meeting last between 30 minutes and one hour.
4. Ask for additional introductions
As you end the meeting be polite and ask your contact if they have any additional individuals they can connect you with for new informational interviews. Also ask if you can “link in” with them on LinkedIn to keep in touch in the future. You want to use informational interviews as a way to grow your personal network in addition to gaining valuable information from industry insiders.
5. Follow up with a thank you
In addition to the attitude of gratitude you will display during your meeting, make sure that after you follow up with an email or written note thanking your contact for their time and for sharing their valuable insight and expertise with you.
Hopefully after reading this, you will feel motivated to be proactive and begin to set up informational interviews today!