How to Conduct Effective Informational Interviews

When you are switching careers or simply looking for a new job, candidates are often advised to conduct informational interviews. Regardless of how much research you have conducted while exploring new employment opportunities, there comes a point when speaking to people who are already working in the field you are interested in is the next logical step. An informational interview is one of the best ways to do that. And generally speaking, people are much happier and more willing to receive requests for information than they are for request for employment.

 

What is an Informational Interview?

 

An informational interview is a highly focused 15 to 20-minute conversation where job seekers ask four to six questions of someone who is already working in the field they are interested in, to gather information on career paths and companies that they are interested in working for.

 

7 Benefits of Conducting Informational Interviews

 

  1. Learn from another person’s experience, expertise and perspectives to clarify your career and sharpen goals.
  2. Excellent way to assess the culture of a company that you are targeting to determine if you really want to work there.
  3. Obtain insider tips that will give you an edge over competing job candidates.
  4. Gain access to the hidden job market.
  5. Learn about the trends that are shaping/transforming the industry.
  6. Expand your professional network and build an enduring relationship that is beneficial to both parties throughout their careers.
  7. Build confidence to perform at peak level during employment interviews.

 

How to Conduct Informational Interviews 

 

  1. Do your research: Conduct research to identify an area of interest – assess your values, interests, abilities and skills to identify careers you are interested in gaining more information about. The Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook is a great place to start. Review materials published by the key professional association in the area you are interested in.
  2. Choose professionals to interview: Based on your areas of interest, spread the word throughout your networks, let them know that you are exploring career options and that you would like to speak to people who are working in your area of interest.
  3. Adequately prepare before the interview: Prior to the interview, based on the research you conducted, formulate four to six interview questions. If you have more than six questions, consider splitting them among multiple interviewees. Make sure that your questions are strategic which will enable you to direct the conversation to meet your objectives for the interview. Also prepare your 90-second elevator pitch as the interviewee may ask you to tell her about yourself.
  4. Arrange the interview: Contact interviewees by email or by sending a letter, explaining that you would like to conduct an informational interview with them and why. And always mention any similarities you have with them to help build rapport. Ask them about their preferred method of communicating with you – phone, email or face-to-face. If you haven’t heard from them in a reasonable amount of time, follow-up with a phone call in the event they did not receive your correspondence.
  5. Conduct the interview: If it’s a face-to-face interview (or a video interview), dress professionally. Ask your questions and take notes. Before you leave, ask interviewees to recommend others who may be helpful to you and request permission to use their name when contacting these people.
  6. Follow-up: Immediately after the interview, write a brief note thanking the person for spending time answering your questions, and send it within two days of the interview. Review the information that you gathered to determine what you learned, and include your thoughts about how you perceived the interview. Periodically follow-up with your contact.

 

Monitor Your Progress

 

Interview enough people so that you have a more balanced perspective. Keep track of the information you gather in an organized way.

 

Sample progress chart to organize your efforts:

 

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