Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Informational Interviews

What is an Informational Interview?
One of the easiest and most effective ways to meet people in the professional field you are interested is to conduct informational interviews. Informational interviewing is a networking approach that allows you to meet key professionals, gather career information, investigate career options, get advice on job search techniques and get referrals to other professionals.

Informational interviews provide a way to explore different careers and a way to discover jobs that are not advertised. Informational interviewing helps you build your network and gather information. For the most part, the people with whom you conduct informational interviews will not have a job to offer, rather, they will supply their time, expertise and knowledge of their practice area, and the names of other people for you to contact.

An informational interview is one of the few interviews in which you are in control of the questions asked. It is a chance to learn more about a specific career without making a long-term commitment of your time or money. You can find out about the responsibilities, rewards, and problem areas inherent in a specific career by asking questions of people already established in that field.

When you begin the process of informational interviewing, keep in mind:

  • You are not asking for a job. You are simply asking for information and advice, so you are not putting this person on the spot.
  • You have the right, and a responsibility to yourself, to seek advice and information from those who can best help you.
  • Because you are interviewing them, you are in charge -- they can relax. 

The art of informational interviewing is in knowing how to balance your hidden agenda (to locate a job) with the unique opportunity to learn firsthand about the demands of your field. Thus, never abuse your privilege by asking for a job, but execute your informational interviews skillfully and a job may follow.

Goals For Conducting Informational Interviews
The primary objectives of informational interviewing are to: 

  • Investigate specific careers of interest to you
  • Assist in narrowing your career options
  • Discover employment opportunities that are not advertised
  • Access the most up-to-date career information
  • Determine which skills employers look for in new employees
  • Determine skills to market in your resume or during an interview
  • Help identify your professional strengths and weaknesses
  • Help assess whether your skills are strong enough
  • Obtain advice on where you might fit in
  • Learn the jargon and important issues in the field
  • Broaden your network of contacts for future reference
  • Create a strategy for entering your field of interest
  • Build confidence for your job interviews

How do you prepare for informational interviews?
Prepare for your informational interviews just as you would for an actual job interview: polish your presentation and listening skills, and conduct preliminary research on the organization. You should outline an agenda that includes well-thought-out questions.

Begin your interview with questions that demonstrate your genuine interest in the other person such as, "Describe a typical day in your department."
Then proceed with more general questions such as, "What are the employment prospects in this field?" or "Are you active in any professional organizations in your field and which would you recommend?"

If appropriate, venture into a series of questions that place the employer in the advice-giving role, such as, "What should the most important consideration be in my first job?" The whole idea is for you to shine, to make an impression and to get referrals to other professionals.

Always remember to send a thank you letter to every person who grants you time and to every individual who refers you to someone.