Looking for a job and want to learn more about a specific field and the people who work in it? There are few better ways to do this than by conducting informational interviews.
In an informational interview, instead of an employer interviewing you, you will interview them. And it gives you a chance to talk to potential hiring managers – or even regular workers.
It’s surprising how few people use informational interviewing, but they should, because it works. Randall S. Hansen, former Stetson University marketing professor and founder of the Quintessential Careers website, says that while only one in 200 resumes results in a job offer, one in 12 informational interviews results in an offer.
Many people are happy to participate in informational interviews, because they like to share information about what they do. A face-to-face meeting is the best kind of informational interview, but if people say they don’t have time, see if you can ask them a few questions on the phone.
How to conduct informational interviews
To set up an informational interview, you need to do the same sort of research you would do if you were trying to find potential employers. Choose a few companies to target, and find out the names of the hiring managers of the departments you’re interested in.
Call them up, tell them you want to do an informational interview and schedule a time. These may take place at the person’s office, or better yet, invite them out for coffee. the $4 or $5 it would cost is an excellent investment, and they often pick up the tab anyway.
You can also use friends to create contacts for informational interviews. If you know someone who does the kind of work you want to do, ask them who in their company might be a good person to talk to. When you call that person, you can say, “So-and-so suggested I call, and I’d like to get together for an informational interview to learn a little more about the type of work you do.”
Online forums can be another tool to help you in your job search. Indeed.com, for example, is not just a great job aggregating website, but it also has great tools. You can use it to identify trends and salaries and to get advice on its online forums, where people go to share knowledge. These forums appear to be very effective. If you ask a question on the forum, people tend to be very helpful in supplying information about working in a particular company or field.
Be aware that an informational interview is not a means of asking for a job. Rather it is a chance to pick someone’s brain and learn what it’s really like to work at a particular type of job. You may also seek advice on how to conduct a better job search or improve your resume.
It’s an opportunity to network and practice talking to people without the pressure of an official interview.
Some examples of questions to ask
Make sure you do some research on the person’s company and the field, if you don’t already know a lot about it. Also prepare a list of questions and take notes during the interview.
Here are a few examples of questions to get you started:
- Why did you choose this particular field?
- How did you get your first job in this field?
- What excites you the most about this type of work?
- What are the biggest challenges?
- What is a typical day in your work like?
- Why did you choose this company, and what do you like about working here?
- What are the most important skills one would need to work in this field?
- What is the best way to get experience for this type of job if one doesn’t already have it?
- What kind of advice can you give to someone who is seeking employment in this field?
- Is there anyone else you can recommend for me to talk to?
When you go for an informational interview, dress professionally (as you would for a job interview), and don’t forget to send a thank you note afterwards. Although an email thank you would be OK, you will make a much better impression if you send a hand written thank you card.