Informational interviews are a great way to learn more about your field while also creating a valuable networking opportunity. In some cases, it could even be a precursor for a job interview. An effective informational interview will provide insight into what it’s really like to work in your desired field and help you better understand how what you’re learning in the classroom will one day be applied.
Informational interviews can potentially lead to a mentorship, internship, or job opportunity as potential employers will recognize the initiative taken to learn more about your field.
Since informational interviews typically aren’t advertised, it will probably take a little preparation to find and connect with the right person. However, by doing this you’ll not only secure a valuable meeting, you’ll also improve your networking skills which will be particularly useful when looking for a job.
So how do you convince someone to take time out of their busy schedule for an interview? In many cases, professionals willingly speak with students who express a strong desire to follow their footsteps. They look at it as a way of contributing to the field and helping to prepare the next generation of practitioners.
Below are a few tips to help you secure the interview:
Determine who you should ask for an interview.
This may not be as easy as it seems. Start by making a list of the ideal companies you’d like to work for. Add to the list the positions or job titles you’d most like to learn about.
Once you’ve compiled this list perform a search on LinkedIn. Be sure to use the advance search function that will allow you to search by company, position, keywords, location, and other criteria. LinkedIn’s advance search could also be a valuable tool to discover companies you may not be aware of by searching for keywords and titles while leaving the company field blank.
Send the request
Once you’ve narrowed down your list to the 3-5 top people you’d like to interview, you’re ready to send the request. Sometimes their email may be listed on the company website. If not, a couple of other ways to find an email address could be a simple Google search, connecting with them on LinkedIn and sending them a message (the most effective method), or finding them on Twitter.
When you email them be clear about why you’d like to meet with them and that this interview is for informational purposes only. Perhaps tell them a little about yourself, your interest in the field, and why you are reaching out to them specifically. Let them know you understand how busy they are and that you’re only requesting about 20 minutes of their time.
Many people will appreciate the fact that you’ve reached out them (they’ll probably even be a little flattered). Most professionals enjoy helping others who are eager to enter and advance in their same field.
If they don’t’ respond to the first email, wait about a week and follow up again. It may take 2-3 different attempts or you may have to reach out to 2-3 different people before securing one, but the benefits are well worth the effort.
Great, I’ve landed the interview. Now what?
You’ll want to prepare before you go to the interview. Research the company, their position, and identify what specifically you want to know. Since you’ll most likely have less than 30 minutes with them, you’ll want to make every question count.
In addition to the “how did you get started” and “how did you end up in your position” questions, here are a few ideas you may want to consider:
- What specifically do you do? What are your job duties and responsibilities?
- How do you see your industry changing over the next five years?
- What are the different types of jobs available in the field?
- What are the growth opportunities for professionals in the field?
- What’s your favorite thing about working in this field? Most rewarding?
- What skills or personal characteristics are best suited for the industry?
- What is the most important thing that someone planning to enter this career should know?
- What other departments or job titles do you regularly work with?
- Can you tell me about an interesting project you’ve worked on?
- Are you a member of any professional organizations? Are there any you would suggest?
- My current career is ________________________. Any advice for transitioning from that career to your career?
- What do you wish you'd known before you entered this field?
- How can I best prepare to be successful in this career, both in the classroom and outside of it?