Without fail, I recommend informational interviews to everyone. I get several reactions, push back, mystification, and just plain disbelief of the value. There’s lots of way to overcome these initial concerns, plus understand the immeasurable value of the informational interview. It’s time to forget the discomfort or embarrassment of thinking you are bothering someone when you ask for an informational interview. People like to help and you are potentially helping them as well.
It’s the new year. Create a career plan, and include informational conversations as an integral component. I’m going to give you substantial ammunition that will blow your concerns out of the water.
DEFINITION OF AN INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEW
Informational interviews serve a multitude of purposes; to determine an educational direction, to help define a career path, or to help build a network for career connections. THEY ARE NOT TO ASK FOR A JOB. The person you are meeting with may feel tricked if you go down this path. Just like the name implies, these types of interviews are for gathering information, networking, and are the best precursor to formal interviews for an actual open position.
WHO SHOULD DO INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWS
The best time to start informational interviews is in high school. With access to information about companies, professions, and talented people on the internet, even if you don’t have established networks, you can build them. Plus, learning about skills and job options, before investing in an expensive education could save you lots of time and money.
OK, so you missed that opportunity, but it’s not too late. I’ve taught groups of women entrepreneurs who come from other countries or didn’t attend US universities how to build networks in their communities, or through LinkedIn, or online resources including search engines like Google.
Or what if you’ve decided you need a change, or are in a dead end role? If you brainstorm with a professional you may even discover new applications for existing skills. Maybe, through the discussion, you find that retraining or an advanced degree could shift your career trajectory.
Informational interviews are about building a network, keeping abreast of market developments, and staying fresh.
HOW INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWS CAN HELP
Check out my examples below, do you see yourself in any of these scenarios? If your answer is yes, then I’d say an informational interview would be a great step for you before you apply for specific open positions.
My oldest son finished up his Peace Corps service in Panama, and transitioning back into the US job market was a daunting challenge. He didn’t enjoy informational interviews when he first graduated from college, but after I sent him this Forbes article, http://onforb.es/IFInBe, “How to Land and Ace an Informational Interview,” he seemed to have a change of heart. Recently, he was recruited away from his first position (back in the US), to a role where he’s using his bilingual skills and leveraging his experience to help the elderly.
My daughter embraced the idea of informational interviews and used them to network in NYC as she looked to relocate and think about the next steps in her career. She leveraged Linkedin profiles and companies websites to do her homework. She also made sure her resume and profile were in good shape before connecting with professionals. She’s now living and working in Brooklyn on a research project with the option to earn her advanced degree.
These are two examples of different reasons to do informational interviews, one for re-entry into a market, and another to relocate geographically.
OTHER REASONS TO DO INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWS
- Determining the best academic route to be qualified for a specific career
- Identifying career options or alternative roles for specific skills or previous training
- Gaining better insights into career pathways and choices of established professionals
- Learning about companies-not only what they do, but what kinds of professionals they value and may need in the future for their organization
- Finding the right organization and team (corporate culture) that fit your personal style
PREPARE FOR INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWS
It’s important to keep your goals in mind as you prepare for informational interviews. The initial focus is to learn more about the person and their organization. So do your homework, read about the professional plus their company, and always prepare good questions.
Eventually the conversation will focus on you. Be prepared to share your “Pitch” or “30 Second Elevator Speech” with the interviewer. Even if you don’t know exactly what you want to do, you can share what your skills/talents are, and how you have used them in the past. This will help the professional think of ideas to help you for your next step.
Send a follow up thank you note. Don’t let it be generic. It’s another opportunity for contact, so make sure you add a piece of information or mention a specific topic that was discussed and how it was helpful.
Through these conversations, your connection can learn about the marketplace from you. You can learn about the company’s successes and challenges. Plus you both know different people and are able to expand each other’s networks. Just like a successful date, the meeting is about finding common interests and exploring if there’s any chemistry. That connection can pay off in several ways; a referral to another interesting person, a future opportunity, or even an idea about something you never imagined.
Most strategic hires are based on an introduction or conversation that was not planned. Do your research, identify interesting professionals, and start reaching out to them now to start a conversation for the New Year!