The 411 on Informational Interviews
I would like to take a moment and pay homage to an often overlooked piece of the job search puzzle — the informational interview.
I bet you didn’t think I was gonna go there. I am.
Too often, we focus so hard on applying and getting the interview and eventually getting the job. What we tend to forget is that there is a lot we can do in tandem with an active job search to network and gain valuable intel on organizations we are interested in and potentially want to work for.
The bonus to all of this is that the pressure is completely off because you are not competing for a job with one million other applicants. You are having a conversation. You are learning about a company and a person’s experience at an organization that you are interested in.
Why does this matter?
Informational interviews can help you practice. If you are feeling rusty on your interviewing skills, or maybe are a new college grad; informational interviews can be a great way to take the edge off and just be yourself.
Informational interviews are also great for just that: Information. Maybe you are looking to change careers and want to understand if that career path is for you. Setting up an informal coffee meeting is a great way to understand if that career is one you would like to pursue.
Informational interviews are also a great way to build your network. As you continue to have these conversations, there are more people you can effectively add to your network that know about you and your experience. When it comes time to get more aggressive about your search, or if the organization posts a role, you could be top of mind.
Getting Hyped for the interview
Just because an interview is informational doesn’t mean you don’t have to go into it prepared. You should still have clear objectives as to what you want to get out of this conversation, and establishing next steps.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Do I know about this company?
- Do I know what this company stands for?
- Why am I interested in this company?
- What do I know about the person I am having this conversation with?
- What do I want to gain from this conversation?
- What are appropriate next steps for this conversation?
You should be able to have answers for all of these questions, so that the interview goes smoothly and that it is productive for both parties involved.
Don’t worry, you do not have to prepare 21 questions. (I just couldn’t resist the throwback 50 Cent reference.)
You should, however, be prepared to ask your interviewer questions. This is the conversation that you set up, remember? You are in the driver's seat. You absolutely cannot rely on the interviewer to drive this conversation.
This goes back to preparing for the conversation — what do you want to know? Seems like a loaded thought, but you need to be able to understand your motivators for setting the interview up.
Jot down a few questions ahead of your interview to help you guide the conversation. A few examples are:
- How did you start with this organization?
- What can you tell me about the culture?
- How does my experience fit into the organization /Where do you see me fitting into the organization?
- What does a typical career path look like here?
These are just general questions, however, you may find some more specific questions come up organically as the conversation goes on.
Almost as important as preparing for the interview is the follow up afterward. A proper follow up ensures you stay connected and top of mind for future opportunities. Make sure you send an appropriate follow up email to thank your contact and establish a timeline for when you will check in.
I would recommend for a purely informational interview, that a quarterly check-in seems fair. Make a note on your calendar to drop a quick email to your contact every quarter to say hello. Maybe you saw a cool article about the company in the press — that is a great way to stay connected as well.
Key Takeaway: The informational interview is an important aspect of the job search -- specifically when doing a career change. I would definitely recommend setting up as many as you can as you continue your job search!