One career tip that is often overlooked is an informational interview. Informational interviews provide first-hand knowledge on careers, organizational culture, professional advice on career related topics, change in professions, companies to work for, and so much more. There is no limit to the reasons to conduct an informational interview.
Richard Bolles, an author and career counselor, coined the term informational interview. It is a meeting between a person who seeks information regarding a career topic and a person working towards that career. The interviews can range from 20 minutes to 60 minutes.
Important facts when conducting an informational interview are as follows:
- Deciding who to interview is based on what you want to know. Having an acquaintance introduce you to an individual you would like to contact for information is by far the best method to find a resource to interview. People are usually more willing and receptive to talk when there is a connection. Interviewees can be found by using social media; LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.
- There are several ways to schedule an interview. If the resource is a friend or acquaintance of a friend, email is acceptable. Have your friend write an email introducing you and stating your interest for an informational interview. Once that is completed, you can contact the person to schedule an interview via email, letter, or phone.
- An informational interview is not a job interview. It is important when requesting an informational interview to state you want to meet to discuss a topic or to obtain information – not to request a job.
- Preparation is essential prior to the informational interview. Once an appointment is scheduled, preparation for the interview is important. You need to prepare questions for the interview based on the information you seek. Knowledge regarding the person you will interview and the company he/she works for is vital prior to the interview; you want to demonstrate that you did your homework. Being prepared for the interview imparts a good first-impression, shows enthusiasm, and demonstrates professionalism. Plus, if you are prepared, you will most likely come away from the interview with the information you seek.
- Know what to do before, during, and after the interview. The informational interview is more casual than a job interview; however, making a positive first impression is very important. Dress well (at least business casual), be professional (bring a resume, arrive on-time, and shake hands upon meeting), and show appreciation (say thank you, buy coffee for the both of you, and write a thank you email or note).
Informational interviews can lead to job offers, future networking opportunities, and friendships. It is best when making decisions to get the information you seek by reaching out to people who are working in your field of choice. Remember the good advice from Coach Wooden, “it’s what you learn after you know it all that counts!”