Interviewing is not my favorite activity. It probably isn’t yours either. And why would it be? Interviews are high-pressure situations that can be downright uncomfortable. But, there are some kinds of interviews that are a little less stressful and a lot more enjoyable – informational interviews.
Informational interviews are short, often informal meetings or conversations, where you get the opportunity meet someone who works in the industry or profession you’re interested in and ask them questions about their careers. When done right, these can be a gold mine of information and a fantastic way to build your network. And because there is no job on the line (at least not yet!), the pressure is off. You might even find yourself having fun!
Even though there is no job offer at the end of this interview, you still need to prepare in order to get the most out of the experience.
- Identify who you want to meet. You may know right off the bat who are the people with whom you want to speak. You can prioritize those folks. But, also make sure that you’re taking the time to do a little bit of research. Use the power of the internet to point you in the right direction. Use sites like LinkedIn to identify people by job title, company, or even skill set. If you read an interesting article related to your industry, jot down the name of the author. If you’re creative and resourceful, you will find that there are lots of people out there who can provide you with invaluable insight.
- Reach out to your potential new friends. Spend some time crafting an e-mail, letter, or even voice message. Introduce yourself and explain that you are reaching out for advice and guidance – NOT a job. Although attaching your resume to an e-mail can potentially be a bit forward, you can always say that you’re including it to give the reader a better sense of your background and/or for advice on how to improve it to make you more competitive in your chosen field. Set a date to meet or speak on the phone and follow it up with a calendar invitation, if possible.
- Create an interview agenda. Since you asked for this interview, it’s up to you to come prepared with an agenda for the meeting. First, make sure that you’ve researched the person with whom you’re meeting. Look up his/her profile on the company website, run a quick Google search to see if (s)he comes up in the news or has published any content. Then, come up with a list of questions to ask. Some common questions to get you started are below, but also be sure to include anything you genuinely want to know about, as well as questions that are specific to that person’s career.
- How did you get started in this field?
- What do you like best about your job? Least?
- What do you find most challenging?
- What does a typical day look like for you?
- What skills does it take to be successful in this field?
- Sell yourself. As we’ve covered, you’re not asking for a job. But you still want to give your best pitch that tells the person with whom you’re meeting who you are, what you want, and what you bring to the table. It’s worth spending a few minutes creating your “elevator pitch.” Write it down. Read it out loud. Revise it as needed. Repeat. Once you have it down, you can use this in a number of settings outside of just informational interviewing. You can use it in real interviews, at networking events, and pretty much anywhere you’ve ever been asked, “So, what do you do?” This exercise may seem silly and uncomfortable, but I promise you it’s worth it.
- Ask for feedback. Now that you’ve explained who you are and asked the right questions, ask for feedback on how you can best position yourself for a career in the industry or field you’ve chosen. It could be improvements to your resume, your speaking style, your education; whatever it is, there is probably something you could do to make yourself more competitive. Take notes and then implement the advice you’ve been given.
- Get Connections. Before the interview concludes, ask the person if there is anyone else they recommend you speak to for guidance. If you’ve made a positive impression, most people will be willing to put you in contact with others in their network. Also, ask about organizations you can join, upcoming networking events you can attend, or publications or books you can read to learn more and stay up to date on developments in the field.
- Send a thank you. Like with any interview, you want to make sure that you take the time to say thank you. Send a follow up e-mail or handwritten note letting the person know that you enjoyed your conversation, a valuable takeaway you learned, and that you look forward to keeping in touch.
- Follow Up. Most importantly, follow up with people. Send them notes throughout the year to say hello, to give them updates on your career, to invite them to an event you think is relevant or pass along a news story or article that relates to their work. It’s this regular contact that turns a passing interaction into a long-lasting relationship.