If you have ever looked at a successful professional and wondered “How did they get to where they are today?” or “What’s it like to work in that industry?” you should consider setting up an informational interview to find the answers to all your questions.
What is it?
The informational interview is a type of info session put into motion by a candidate who is interested in a company, an industry or future job opportunities and who wants to gain more insight from the right person in the field.
Informational interviews are a fairly new concept, which has become increasingly popular over the last few years. It spins the tables on the traditional job interview and lets the candidate be in charge; it’s usually a more relaxed atmosphere where the two parties can ask questions and share opinions about their professional lives. The candidate does the interviewing and chooses which direction s/he wants the discussion to go.
Why is it important?
Apart from getting good advice and completing your research, this interview could be your chance to network and get noticed by decision makers in a company you may want to work for in the future.
It’s your chance to make a great first impression and set your best foot forward so that you can be a memorable candidate for any upcoming positions they may be hiring for. Also, you may be told of potential job opportunities or upcoming hiring seasons.
How do you set one up?
There are essentially two ways to find the company or individual who you would like to interview. The easiest way is to think about people you currently know and who they could connect you with. Tell your friends about the industry or job you are interested in and ask them if they know anyone, either at their company or in their own professional network that they can connect you with. You may think you don’t know a lot of people, but if you really think about it, you would be surprised who you can come up with.
The second option would be to conduct research on a new company, who you’ve never connected with before and then simply giving them a call. Tell the person over the phone who you are, who you would like to speak to and why. Make sure you specify that you only want to ask them a few questions in an informational interview and give them a duration for the meeting (20 or 30 minutes should be suitable).
What should you ask?
Even though this is not a formal job interview, you should still prepare a list of questions to ask the host. Remember, you are the one leading the interview and you are expected to ask most of the questions. Don’t be afraid to get a little personal and establish a connection with the host, but make sure you’re always professional with your line of questioning.
Start by thinking about what you would like to know about the host’s job, their company, and their career. Write down a list of questions and ask yourself how you could make this meeting memorable for the host as well; sharing similar career experiences, goals or aspirations would certainly do the trick. Most importantly, be honest, genuine and respectful. If you have doubts about any of your questions, run them by a friend or instructor and listen to what they have to say.
Finally, just remember…
You are there to gather information and make connections, don’t oversell yourself or ask for a job. This can make the host question your motives and the interview will end on a negative note. At the end of the interview don’t be afraid to ask for a business card so you can contact the host on a later date and make sure you send them a personalized thank you note to follow up shortly after the interview.
Do you already have a career or company in mind? It’s never too early to start conducting an informational interview. Make a list of contact methods and questions to ask and start connecting to influential business professionals today.