Mastering the Informational Interview

As a public relations major who graduates in May, I am incredibly eager to begin the job search. However, with many positions looking to be filled immediately and the recommended application process starting in March, that leaves me with five months to perfect my resume, build my network of professionals and start the informational interview process.

Last year, while many of my friends were preparing for graduation, the term “informational interviews” was thrown around quite frequently. At the time, I had no idea what they were talking about. The concept of asking people to take time out of their busy schedules to sit down and essentially be interviewed by you utterly confused me. However, I quickly began to learn how beneficial informational interviews were to developing your network while providing you with further knowledge about a job, career field or industry.

I have just started the informational interview process and have had the fortune to speak with a well-established international media trainer, a director for a national nonprofit organization, and next week, two publicists from a world-renowned Broadway producing company. However, these informational interviews didn’t just fall into my lap. Today, I’m going to share tips for securing informational interviews and tips on how to make the most of them, courtesy of Career Action Now and the Shifting Careers blog of the New York Times.

Mastering the Informational Interview:

1. Securing an interview: Always begin by seeking people to interview through referrals. Having your connection introduce you to the person you hope to interview often produces the best results.In addition to referrals, you can also find people to interview through an alumni network or social networking such as LinkedIn.

2. Keep in mind, the goal is to learn…not to seek: Consider yourself in “information-gathering” mode. A critical aspect in doing a career-related informational interview is to treat the informational interview as an opportunity to gain further knowledge about a job, career field or industry, or even a particular major that you’re interested in and not as an opportunity to ask about getting a job.

3. Always be prepared: Do your homework on the person you are interviewing, the company they work for and the position they hold. Have a list of well-thought out questions, be professional by being appropriately dressed, punctual and courteous, and be engaged and interested by maintaining good eye contact and expressing enthusiasm.

4. Be flexible: Remember, the other person is doing you a favor, therefore it should always be about what is most convenient for them. Although a face-to-face interview may be ideal, consider alternative methods that might work better for the interviewer such as over the telephone or through email.

5. The wrap-up: At the end of every informational interview, always ask for referrals for anyone else they think you should speak with. This is how you continually build your professional network. Additionally, show your appreciation for their time by sending a brief and courteous thank-you message, whether through email or a handwritten note (I personally suggest handwritten notes because they’re much more personal.)If you want to continue the relationship, find a way to stay in touch.

Below are 10 examples of questions to bring with you to your next informational interview:

1. Can you tell me how you got to this position?
2. What do you like most about what you do, and what would you change if you could?
3. How do people break into this field?
4. What are the types of jobs that exist where you work and in the industry in general?
5. What does a typical career path look like in your industry?
6. What are some of the biggest challenges facing your company and your industry today?
7. Are there any professional or trade associations I should connect with?
8. What do you read — in print and online — to keep up with developments in your field?
9. How do you see your industry changing in the next 10 years?
10. What’s a typical day like for you?

Do you have any tips on conducting a successful informational interview? Let us know!

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