There are a million and one different job search strategies, and no single one is the silver bullet; it takes a lot of trial and error to find what works for you. However, there are a few fundamentals that should remain static in everyone’s job search, and one of those tactics is the informational interview.
The term was originally defined by Richard Nelson Bolles, author of What Color Is Your Parachute?, and is now defined by Wikipedia as “a meeting in which a job seeker asks for career and industry advice rather than employment. The job seeker uses the interview to gather information on the field, and to find employment leads and expand their professional network.”
This All Sounds Great, But Who Do You Ask?
Over the years, I’ve heard consistently that people don’t know who to ask and, even if they did, they wouldn’t know how to find them. Well, first start with family and friends. That’s your immediate network and the people who should easily help you. After that, you need to put some work in. The easiest and best tool at your disposal is LinkedIn, the largest professional networking website on the Internet. If you don’t have LinkedIn, sign up today. If you do have LinkedIn, let’s go to work.
You must first start by creating a target list. If you could speak to anyone, who would it be? What position would they have, what company would they work for and what industry would they be in? Organize these three categories into three columns in Microsoft Excel. Once you’ve created this list, start using the advanced search on LinkedIn and begin populating each category with the appropriate information. The key is, the more people you come up with, the merrier.
With the list complete, it’s now time to begin reaching out and engaging discussion with these individuals. The secret is to personalize and tailor each message. Based on the individual’s position, you will want to say different things. For example, if you’re reaching out to a director, you may want to emphasize that you want to learn how they were able to achieve that role. If you’re reaching out a manager or below, you may want to know about their day-to-day activities. The point is there’s nothing wrong you can say here; just stay away from asking for a job! Remember, you’re asking about career and employment advice — possibly even contacts.
What Do You Do in an Informational Interview?
Once you’ve heard back from the people you sent messages to, it’s time to start conducting informational interviews. What do you do, exactly, in an informational interview?
Right off the bat, I will tell you what it’s not: a formal interview. Rather, it should be classified as an informational discussion, because the goal is to ask probing questions in order to learn about a profession and/or industry. For example:
- Why did you choose [company]?
- How did you get into the role you’re in today?
- What skills/qualifications are necessary to get a job with your company?
- What do you love/hate about your job?
Basically, ask the questions that are important to you. With that being said, I would recommend staying away from only one question: “How much money do you make?” Eek! Awkward!
But What If You Don’t Know What You Want to Do?
What if you want to change career paths or find something new? Informational interviews can still be beneficial for you, because you can learn what you do and don’t like by speaking to different people, essentially narrowing the choices. (Click here to tweet this thought.)
The goal of the informational interview is come away with actionable information and advice. Perhaps this person gave you a few contacts to reach out to or some articles or books to read. Either way, you’ve made a new contact now and have expanded your network; be sure to thank that individual for all they’ve done for you.
Wherever you are in your life, the informational interview should be a tool in your arsenal and one you should be consistently deploying. It will put you above your competition and will even get you farther in your career because of what you learned. So go ahead, expand your network and utilize it to get ahead in your career and find your next job!
Do you use informational interviews? If not, what’s stopping you?