Using informational interviews as a way of trying to get a job is misleading, and will possibly have the opposite effect
I entered the workforce a few months ago, and took an entry-level job to get my feet wet. I’m starting to think about what I want to do long-term, and have been looking into a few options. A few people have suggested conducting informational interviews with people working in different companies that interest me. To me, it sounds like a way to try to get into a company by pretending to be friendly with someone who works there. That just feels wrong. Also, even if this is a normal thing to do, I have no idea how to conduct an interview. Can you please explain to me how it works?
Looking for honest career growth
You are absolutely correct; using informational interviews as a way of trying to get a job is misleading, and will possibly have the opposite effect. The goal is to actually learn more about a job so you can decide if you’d like to pursue it.
Of course, many of us have conducted informational interviews without knowing there is an official term for it. You may have done this informally throughout your life. Making a choice using this informed process can easily help you bypass years of confusion. But I’ve seen many people make career choices without this easy step, simply because they don’t know how to go about it. Let’s demystify the process, so that you start off your career well-informed.
What is an informational interview
When I first heard this term, I pictured a small room with two people sitting in armchairs, conducting an official recorded interview. Instead, it’s more likely to be a phone call to a friend of your parents, where you’re getting to know more about what they do at work. It’s just a conversation you have with someone about a career path you’re considering, as part of your decision-making process.
When to conduct an informational interview
The two times in your career that this tool is useful are:
When you’re choosing a career path to begin with.
When you’re looking into specific companies you’re considering applying to.
When making your career-path decision, the best time to have these interviews is once you’ve narrowed down your career options to two or three.
So, let’s say you’re deciding between becoming a financial analyst or a controller. Or maybe your options are going into social work or genetic counseling. Speaking to people who hold these jobs can help you make a final decision.
In your case, it sounds like you’ve already chosen a general career path in business and are thinking about what kind of role you’d like to pursue long-term. Interviews like these can even be conducted with senior-level employees within your current company, if it is large enough and has different opportunities for growth.
Why conduct an informational interview
Simply put, the only reason is to learn information that Professor Google doesn’t know. By the time you’re ready to make this choice, you should already know all the information that’s accessible for free. The point is to hear inside information from real people in the trenches, which you just can’t find by googling.
Who to ask for informational interviews
Start with finding people you know, and asking friends, family, coworkers, or your career coach to introduce you to people they know in the fields you’re looking into. An email, text, or LinkedIn introduction is all that’s needed to get started.
Use a message like this:
“Hi, David, my (sibling/friend/client) is making a career decision, and is considering your field. I’m wondering if you’d be open to speaking with him for a few minutes to answer a few questions?” Most people will readily respond in the affirmative.
Now you’re ready to start scheduling interviews.
How to conduct an informational interview
Think about good interviews you’ve listened to: live, on shows, or on podcasts. What sets apart a good interviewer is his preparation. Approach the interview as you would any professional encounter, and prepare by coming with a list of questions you’ve written down ahead of time.
As you listen to what the interviewee has to say, take notes! The information he shares can very possibly help you make a major life decision, so write it down.
Of course, follow up after the meeting with a thank-you note or email.
If you implement your interviewee’s advice, follow up to let them know what helped you. For example, if they’ve recommended a book that was useful to them in their career, buy it, read it, and let them know what you enjoyed! Not only will they appreciate your feedback, it’s also an opportunity to keep up the relationship, which may be useful later.
What NOT to do
-Do not abuse these conversations as a way to get a job.
-Don’t talk about yourself more than necessary. “Here’s my background, here’s what I’m considering, and here’s what I’m wondering.”
-Don’t wait for the interviewee to end the conversation. If you’ve asked for a quarter of an hour, bring the meeting to a close after 15 minutes.
-Don’t ask for a favor right away. If and when you do apply for a job at their company, let them know. If they’re comfortable, they’ll probably offer to put in a good word.
As you reach out and have these conversations, it’s helpful to keep in mind that many people enjoy talking about themselves and what they do — and it isn’t something they often get asked about! Focus on the person and their story, so it’s an enjoyable conversation for them as well. And remember to pass on the favor and give some of your time and advice to someone else once you’re settled in a career and role you enjoy.
How much of your day do you spend working on ___ (paperwork/meetings/software)?
What personality traits do you think fit your job best?
What skills are most important to have for your job?
What is the most satisfying part of your work?
What is the most stressful part of your work?
Who do you go to when you need advice/support at work?
What is something you wish you would have known before you started?
What is a realistic salary range for beginner and experienced candidates?
What is the best thing I can do to become an attractive candidate for this position?
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 855)
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