All About The Informational Interview

So you think you finally have an idea about what you want to do when you grow up, but you have no experience in that field. 

Especially if this realization involves a great change in you career plans, an informational interview can help you decide what path is right for you. The best way to get an impression of the challenges, demands, and opportunities of a particular job is by talking with professionals already working in the field.

An informational interview is just an information gathering session with a networking contact who can help you decide on a given career path by offering you an insider perspective on the job. Richard Nelson Bolles, the deviser of the concept of informational interviewing, describes the process as “trying on jobs to see if they fit you.” The majority of job seekers choose a lifelong career without ever taking the time to speak with people experienced in the trade. As a result, they find themselves in a job that does not match their expectations or interests.

Informational interviews are not just for those soon-to-graduate Seniors. First-year students and alumni alike can gain from the informational interview. From picking a major to picking a career path or transitioning to a completely new career, it can serve as a tool for almost any stage of the career search. But never ask for a job during an informational interview. It is not meant to be a sneaky way to get a time to talk with a potential employer. However, it can inadvertently open doors for similar job opportunities in the future. Over 80% of professional jobs are filled due to networking connections, so the informational interview can expand your contact list and give you referrals to other professionals in the business. It also will provide you with helpful information and tips for your upcoming job search.

Career counselors often recommend sending a written request before a phone call to set up an informational interview. Many job seekers prefer to speak with someone they already know personally, or that they know through a friend, but feel free to search online too. Check your school’s alumni network, as alumni are usually thrilled to give advice to interested students. In your request, make it clear that you are just looking for information and not asking for a job.

Before going into the interview, be sure to prepare as though this were a real job interview. Research the company, check the organization’s website, prepare a statement about yourself, know your skills and interests, and dress for a good first impression. Come up with a series of questions to ask, such as what hours the job requires or whether your interviewer would choose this same career given another chance. Whoever you are meeting with has volunteered their time to help you, so send a thank you letter to them as well as anyone who referred you to them. Maintain contact with the person you interviewed with because you may have further questions, or they may be interested in receiving your resume later if you decide to pursue that same career path.

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