Whether you’re currently working and thinking of making a change, or you’re in between jobs and exploring new options, setting up informational interviews can be a great source for new information. The informational interview gives you the opportunity to ask questions that you might not ordinarily ask in an interview, get varying perspectives, make new connections, and step inside companies that you wouldn’t ordinarily see.
One of the best aspects of an informational interview is that you get to be in the driver’s seat. The person you meet with knows that you’re there to ask him/her questions and they’ve already agreed to answer them. And the person you meet with is usually more relaxed because they don’t have to prepare for the meeting or try to convince you of anything, so they’re more candid and open. Let me give you an example.
My client Mark recently went on an informational interview to explore a complete career change. The meeting was set up by someone in his network who couldn’t directly help him, but knew a key player in the industry who would be willing to give Mark an hour of his time. A few days before the interview, Mark and I had our scheduled coaching call and we walked through how to prepare for his meeting.
Our meeting focused on three key areas:
- What did Mark want to get out of the meeting?
- What were the most important questions Mark wanted to ask?
- What did Mark want the interviewer to know about him?
You might think the first question would be a simple to answer, but it wasn’t. Initially, Mark thought it would be perfect if he made such great connection that he was offered a job on the spot. But when he thought about it a little more, the idea of making a move that quickly was really scary. He wasn’t ready for it. What Mark wanted from this meeting was to learn more. To make sure this wasn’t just some crazy idea. He wanted to make an educated decision. And he wanted to minimize the risks of a career change as much as possible.
To get the most out of the meeting, Mark and I made a list of questions he could ask. He knew he might not get the chance to ask all of them, but having the questions prepared ahead of time would help him stay more focused on the conversation. Some of the questions we came up with were:
- Who are the key companies and ‘up and comers’ in the industry?
- How has the industry evolved over the last 10 – 15 years?
- How has technology and social media affected the industry?
- How is the industry affected by the economy and legislation?
- What positions are typically hired in house and which are outsourced?
- How could Mark leverage his professional skills, experiences and education in a way that would be of value to companies in this industry?
- What type of positions would it make sense for Mark to pursue, and what kind of careers could be built out of those roles?
Now came the hard part. I always tell my clients to think of the 1 – 3 things they want to make sure they communicate about themselves before they leave an interview. But for Mark, he wasn’t interviewing for a specific position. He wasn’t trying to sell his experience or qualifications. How could he know what the interviewer should know about him before the questions above were answered?
In this situation, Mark had to identify the key talents he felt would be transferable to this new industry. And even if he was not spot on, the exercise of thinking through those talents would hopefully help him know which ones to point out in the interview.
So a couple of days later Mark had his informational interview and called me afterward to tell me how it went. He was ecstatic! The person he met with was more than happy to tell him how he got into the industry, why he loves it, how it has changed and continues to evolve, and what he sees in the future. Mark got all of his questions answered (most without even having to ask them) and was able to get a good sense for the different career opportunities he could pursue in this industry. The interviewer offered to introduce Mark to a few people once Mark revised his resume and they agreed to follow up in about a month.
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This story is very similar to many informational interviews people have told me about over the years. Most people are willing to help.
The best way to get an informational interview is through a referral because the meeting is recommended by a mutual connection. But most people you know won’t think to suggest it or follow through unless you ask for it. So, be proactive and you can make new connections.
Networking Doesn’t Have to Feel Like Work
Julia is a Career Strategist and Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach based in the Bay Area. She helps career-focused professionals showcase their unique abilities and talents in order to amplify their presence in their chosen fields and when re-entering the job market. Julia uses her extensive leadership experience in executive management, business development, team building and recruiting to help her clients have the career they always wanted. Learn more about Julia at www.JuliaHolian.com, www.LinkedIn.com/in/JuliaHolian, https://Twitter.com/JuliaHolian (@JuliaHolian) and www.Facebook.com/JuliaHolian.