Informational Interviews: Understanding the Basics

What is an informational interview?

Also referred to as an “informational conversation”, an informational interview is a type of meeting where job seekers attempt to obtain guidance on their career of choice, industry, as well as the corporate culture of a potential future place of employment. Meanwhile, employers have the opportunity to learn more about a specific job seeker, ascertaining their possible value to the organization as well as their potential fit within the corporate culture, while also building upon their own pool of viable future hires.

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In an informational interview, job seekers can be either active or passive candidates; meaning they may be true job seekers or employed professionals looking to gather knowledge about their field of choice. In either case, the candidate is gaining valuable leads, network contacts, and expertise.

How do informational interviews differ from typical job interviews?

In a traditional job interview, the conversation is centered upon hiring and a specific job to be filled; whereas an informational interview provides level ground for participants to learn about one another on a more equal basis. However, it’s important to note that even if a direct employment opportunity is not being discussed, professionalism is still top priority.

Coined by best-selling career author, Richard Nelson Bolles, an informational interview can either be initiated by a job seeker or by an employer seeking to construct an assemblage of candidates for possible future positions.

However, when a candidate initiates an informational interview, close attention must be paid to etiquette. Job seekers should remain heedful of the fact that the employer is taking time out of their schedule to meet with them. In this instance – much like a traditional job interview – educating one’s self about the company and industry is crucial. Also, be sure that the meeting does not markedly exceed the 15-minute mark.

How should one locate contacts for an informational interview?

Much like a traditional job search or candidate screening process, connections can be made through job boards, career and social networking sites, placement services, newspaper “want-ads”, professional meet-up and trade associations, company websites, teachers and professors, professional recruiters, and job search engines.

What are some tips for job seekers looking to conduct their own informational interview?

Executive/career coach, speaker, and author, Tad Mayer offers some helpful guidelines for candidates looking to organize an informational interview with a prospective employer or expert in their field.

1.  Set an agenda that will get you the answers you need.

Ask the other party for their “story”, background, and what led them to their current role or position. Follow this question by asking for any pertinent advice that the employer or field expert can offer. For purposes of reference, be sure to provide information about yourself as well. By explaining your “story” to the other individual, you are providing them with a more effective opportunity to offer their assistance. Once they can understand your unique perspective, they will be better able to properly tailor their responses and advice in a more helpful way.

2.  Reach out to the right people.

Assure that the individual with whom you choose to connect will be both helpful and reliable. In other words, search for contacts who not only possess valuable knowledge based on where you are in your career, but also those who are most likely to agree to the meeting. Mayer asserts that the latter criterion is essential, especially when you are starting out. The more informational interviews you are able to complete with willing individuals, the more practice you will have for those deeper in your network.

Informational-Interview-Woman-accessing-Social-Network.jpgThe Takeaway

The reasons for partaking in this often overlooked career resource can be limitless, and the benefits are often multi-faceted. Whether you walk away with a job offer, some future networking prospects, or even a new friendship; informational interviews are a win-win for everyone involved.

 

Fred Coon, CEO

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