Informational Interviews Explained
The word “interview” can often send us into a panic. We know we are going to be asked lots of questions, that we are going to be judged, and that the prospect of a new job rides on it. However, an informational interview is not your average interview and turns everything you know about interviews on its head.
What is an informational interview?
Informational interviews are usually initiated by you, the job seeker, and it’s you who is in the driving seat. Rather than be questioned and assessed for a job role, informational interviews allow you to ask the questions and find out more about a workplace or industry, to assess whether it is a good fit for you and your skill set.
An informational interview is an informal meeting between you and an employer in a field you’re interested in, which gives you the chance to seek advice on your career, a new industry, potential job roles, and the environment you might join. In return, it allows the employer to get to know you and assess whether you’re a good fit for any future roles.
You can either be interested in a job in the company you approach, or simply looking to gather information for a career change. Either way, an informational interview is a fantastic way to learn from a direct source and explore questions you can’t always answer from articles and the web. It’s also a great way of networking and building useful connections within the industry. If you impress the employer, it’s also put you in their mind if a role eventually opens up, or gives you a head start if there is a current position to offer.
How can you set up an informational interview?
You are essentially asking for a favour when you approach an employer for an informational interview, so be mindful of that fact and ensure that you are not pushy. You will need to find the correct contact and approach that person directly, or through the employer’s assistant, if that is preferred. Don’t send out a generic letter to lots of people, make your contact personal and do your research. Make it clear that you want to speak to that particular person and articulate why, so that person feels they have something of value to offer you.
Once you have contacted the employer, give them preference of when and where to meet. Show up armed with everything you want to ask, so that you don’t waste their time.
What questions should I ask?
There is no rule here. You need to ask whatever will get you the answers you need. Are you looking to know what skills and experience are most desired in the industry? Wondering whether your current career history would be accepted? Do you want to know about career progression, work-life satisfaction, or job flexibility? The list really is endless. The informational interview is your opportunity to discover everything you want to know about a certain position or a new field.
Here are a few questions to get you started:
- How did you get into this career?
- What past work experiences helped you the most?
- What do you love about this career?
- What are your biggest challenges within your role/field?
- What current projects are you working on?
- What is it like to work for this organization?
- How would you describe the right skill set, experience, and education for this position within your organization?
About the Author: Nikki Vivian is a Career Coach and owner of From Kids to Career, which was set up to support women who are returning to a career, or looking to move in a new direction after taking time out to raise a family. Nikki works with Mums to find their true passions and to re-build confidence that can be lost after a break from the workplace. She believes passionately that being a parent does not put you at the bottom of the pile when it comes to your career. Nikki owns CV writing company Confident CV and has 8 years’ experience working in Careers for Cardiff University.