An informational interview is a conversation that you can arrange to seek insights about the real-life experience of someone working in a field, company or industry you are interested in. This is different from a job interview as the meeting is focused on gathering relevant information, as opposed to a job offer.
Informational interviews are a great way to make the right choices about your career. By chatting to someone with excellent experience in the same role or industry you want to move into, you’ll receive knowledgeable advice that elevates your decision-making.
However, you can’t rush into an informational interview without proper preparation. You need to find the ideal interviewee, ask the right questions and conduct yourself professionally to generate the most benefit.
We explore why and how to organise a rewarding informational interview.
Why set up an informational interview
When you’re outside the industry looking in, it’s hard to know whether it suits your expertise and career goals. By setting up an information interview, you can discover if a specific sector is the right move for your future.
1. Learn about the industry
If you’re a student or a jobseeker, an informational interview can provide a wealth of knowledge about where to take your career. As these conversations differ from a formal job interview, there’s no need to worry about asking basic questions or making mistakes.
Instead, these meetings are a clever way to hear about someone’s experiences in an industry and how they might apply to your objectives. Ideally, you’ll become exposed to less-talked-about aspects of a sector, which give you the information needed to make an informed decision.
2. Understand your role
If you’ve already decided to move into a specific industry, you can conduct informational interviews about a certain role. This way, you can speak to someone working in your foreseeable position to find out whether the pros and cons match your expectations.
What happens if the roles don’t align with what you’re looking for? You’ll have an early warning that might signal you need to reconsider your career outlook.
Although this might sound daunting, it’s better to learn these details from experienced professionals than end up in a career where you want to leave after just a few months.
3. Establish great contacts
Building a relationship with the right person can give you an advantage in landing your first job in the industry. Even if they don’t offer you a role, they might provide helpful insider information about opportunities.
Forging a robust network is crucial to the success of virtually every professional. By showcasing your professionalism and willingness to learn with an experienced person in the industry, you might find your name gets passed along to a hiring manager in the future.
How to benefit from an informational interview
Now that you understand the benefits of an informational interview, you need to know how to initiate one that gives your prospects a boost. Consider these tips to ensure your informational interview enhances your job search.
1. Have an objective
Whether you’re a first-year student or looking to make a mid-career switch, having a goal for your conversation is key to asking the right questions. For example, hearing about the day-to-day responsibilities supports your next steps.
With a clear goal underpinning an informational interview, you will have a logic behind your questions that ensures you learn the most from these beneficial interactions. You can also set about finding the ideal person to meet with.
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2. Find the ideal person
Depending on your goals, this might be a senior executive at a large company or a junior worker that has entered the industry using the same door you’ll need to pass through.
So, how do you find the right person? Keep up with industry publications to see who’s making waves in the sector. You might also find fascinating people at seminars and events that discuss topics relevant to your career goals.
Career fairs are also a great avenue to establish relationships. Make contact via email or social media to get the ball rolling.
3. Prepare the right questions
After getting someone to agree to an interview, conduct yourself professionally by crafting insightful questions that keep the conversation on topic. Taking notes is good, but don’t let this impede a free-flowing conversation with your subject.
Pay close attention to your questions if you can only meet for a short time. If you’re looking to learn about a specific role, focus your questions on this topic rather than on broad issues related to the industry.
Keep your aim in mind and you can’t go wrong!