3 Rules For Effective Informational Interviewing

Have you ever had an "informational interview?" If you have, then you may know what I am talking about but if you haven't, here is a brief explanation. Watch: How To Stop Being Random With Your Networking Efforts An informational interview is a tool to help job seekers, career transitioners, and even college students, understand a particular job or field they are considering moving toward. It is a brief conversation - either on the phone or in person - in which the person seeking the new career is "interviewing" the person currently in the role or field of study. The goal is to learn about the perception versus reality of an area of interest. I did this when I was first looking into coaching. It was the best thing I could have done. I wasn't sure career coaching was what I wanted to focus on. By speaking to real coaches in various areas of expertise, I got a true picture of the training and experience necessary and even the lifestyle/schedule. Before digging into how to have an effective interview, there are a few key differences between a regular job interview and an informational interview I want you to understand. The informational interview is targeted at:

  • Keeping it brief
  • Information gathering - mostly one sided
  • The person in the job you most want to investigate
On the other hand, a formal job interview is:
  • Much longer
  • With multiple interviewers, both parties are interviewing each other
  • The job seeker is the core person being interviewed by a hiring manager(s)
The pressure is on you. However, with an informational interview the pressure is significantly lowered, but not gone. This tactic if done well can help you decide if you want to go into this area, add connections to your network, and possibly gain you a job opportunity at that company or elsewhere. This person may know of other opportunities for you to investigate at their competitors or partners. So, the pressure is never off. You still must bring your "A" game. It is a tool fantastic tool to utilize. Many times people are willing to help in your research however they can. But keep a few "rules" in mind to have your informational interviews be truly successful. Some "rules" of information interviewing:

1. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

Never "wing it." Prepare as you would for anything truly important. This shows respect to the person you are interviewing. Know where you are meeting and how long it will take to get there, if this is in person. If it is on the phone, have the correct number and time. Confirm the details the day before. If in person, again dress appropriately which means professional. Develop your questions in advance and have them in priority order. Some great questions to ask in an informational interview:
  • How did you get into this field?
  • What are your core roles and responsibilities?
  • What is the favorite part of your job?
  • What do you most dislike?
  • Here is my interest and background (keep it brief). How might you suggest I break into the field?
  • What training or education is required?
  • What associations do you belong to?
  • What publications do you read to keep up with your field?
Finally, be prepared to keep to the allotted time. If the plan is 20 minutes, based on your conversation when you booked the interview, keep to it. Again this shows respect for the person's time. If this is a positive experience for the person being interviewed they will mostly likely offer up their time again to others.

2. Research, Research, Research

Research not only the company this person is employed by but even more importantly, the person. Find out all there is to know about the person you are going to talk to. Their background, time at the company, length of time in the field, and any common area of interest. This common area of interest will help you truly connect with them. That is the key. Make a connection and you will have an alley, encourager, and possibly colleague in the future. Some of the coaches I did informational interviews with years ago are now my colleagues and I love that! Research them on Google, LinkedIn, ZoomInfo. Work to understand as much as you can about that person. Just like preparation and research pays off in a formal interview, so it will, in an informational interview when the pressure is not nearly as high.

3. Follow Up, Follow Up, Follow Up

Be professional and thankful for the time this person spent with you. Follow up with a values-based thank-you e-mail within 24 hours of your meeting. Also send a handwritten thank-you card. That, too, needs to be in the mail within 24 hours. Yes, this is "old fashioned," but tells the person you appreciated their time enough to actually write a "real" note. Trust me. It makes an impression of your character, whether you do or don't send thank-you notes and e-mails. I make this same recommendation for a formal job interview. I mean let's be practical. The e-mail gets there quicker and is easier to type up. The handwritten truly shows your appreciation. Send both! Be sure to follow up on recommendations or connections this person makes for you. Let them know what came of their connections and suggestions and exactly how it helped. This again shows good character and also keeps you in their mind for future news and opportunities they may hear about. I strongly suggest the informational interview to see what is perception versus reality in a field you are interested in. If you need help working through getting one lined up or preparation for, let me know. I can help. This post was originally published on an earlier date.

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About the author

Lisa Adams, founder of Fresh Air Careers, is a certified career management coach and job search strategist, specializing in helping young professionals transition.       Disclosure: This post is sponsored by a CareerHMO coach. You can learn more about coach posts here.   Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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