What to Expect During an Informational Interview
If you’re engaged in a career search, you may have heard of informational interviews. You may even have set some up! But what should you expect during an informational interview?
An informational interview is a combination of research and networking, but not a job interview.
What It Is and Isn’t
First, understand the concept of an informational interview. It is designed to elicit more information about a particular job, a specific company, or an industry. It’s part of research, to some degree, and part of networking, to some degree. You get information that is more immediate than a book or article. You get a sense of what it’s like to work in a career, organization, and sector.
But second, it’s important to understand that an informational interview is not a job interview. You are not talking about any specific opening, and not expecting the person to hire you. That’s crucial to keep in mind. All you’re asking for is a bit of their time to answer your questions.
They can provide you with information about what a specific career is like and how to aim for it, if you are entering the workforce or thinking of changing career paths. Or they can provide information about specific organizational cultures and practices or industries, if you want to change companies or sectors.
Informational interviews can help you informally find out about jobs, companies, and industries.
What to Expect
What should you expect during an informational interview?
Well, informational interviews are short. Aim for 15 minutes. They can be conducted in person or via email. If in person, you can either meet at the interviewee’s office or for coffee. Ask the interviewee what method works best for them.
Informational interviews are guided by the information you’re seeking. It’s best to draw up a list of open-ended questions. Don’t go to an informational interview expecting the person you’re interviewing to do all the work. They are doing you a favor. Come prepared.
In fact, it’s a good idea to state clearly what information you are looking for and why when you ask for an interview. Send them your resume, too, so they have a sense of your background.
Possible questions include:
- How should I prepare for a career in x?
- How did you get your start?
- What education is necessary for x job?
- What promotional paths exist for x position?
- Could you describe a day in the life of your job?
- What’s it like to work at company y?
- Describe the organizational culture at company y.
- What qualities does company y look for in its employees?
- I think my experience in sector a has given me transferable skills to sector b. What would be the perception in sector b?
- Do I need training or education to move into sector b from sector a?
- Could you suggest someone to interview about x topic?
After the Interview
Follow-up is crucial for an informational interview to succeed. After all, it’s part of your research and networking, and you need to utilize it.
Send a thank-you note within 24 hours of the interview. Thank the interviewee for their time and help.
If they suggest anyone else it would be helpful to talk to, get in touch with that person.
If they suggest that training or more education is needed, make plans to obtain it.
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