By Lisa P. Cohn, PHR
Whether you are looking for a job, itching to make a career role change, or exploring a new industry, we can all agree that career planning can be an overwhelming process, taking an enormous amount of effort. While you’re investing all that time and energy, you owe it to yourself to research and find out about a specific company, industry, or field before accepting a new job to ensure that it is “the right fit.”
This process can include conducting informational interviews, researching companies and industries online and attending networking events. Informational interviews are a key part of your research because they place you in the driver’s seat, expand your relationship circle, help build confidence, and sometimes may even lead to future job contacts or offers. In some cases, the knowledge you gain through an informational interview may alter your original career course, leading you in a different direction.
What is an Informational Interview?
Don’t let the term “interview” mislead you; the goal of this kind of interview is to gather information, not to land a job immediately. Unlike in a typical interview, you take on the interviewer role by asking the questions and generally leading the pace. The focus is on gaining information about a specific company, developing networking contacts, and strengthening your relationship building skills. You take responsibility for selecting and making the initial contact, doing research about the industry or company, arranging the interview, preparing questions and conducting the interview. In order to gain valuable firsthand information, aim to connect with someone in a specific organizational area or job role that interests you, rather than targeting a CFO, owner, or company Human Resource professional. Many people ask a close personal friend, peer, or business partner to help connect them to someone in a particular company, field, industry, or relevant networking group.
What’s in it for Employers?
Many employers welcome the opportunity to “pay it forward,” as someone may have done the same for them in their career. Some employers participate in order to gain community involvement or exposure as a networking opportunity, while others see this as a recruiting opportunity to interact with and identify potential candidates. And, of course there are some employers who owe a friend, business partner or peer a favor, who has decided to cash in for a friend in need of this interview experience.
Sample Interview Questions (http://gatewaytocareers.com/):
- Can you tell me a little about yourself and what attracted you to this field or occupation?
- Describe a typical day and your tasks and responsibilities.
- What personal qualities or abilities are important to being successful in this job?
- What part of your job do you find most satisfying? Most challenging?
- What special advice would you give to someone entering this field?
- What do you think of the experience I’ve had so far in terms of entering this field? Do you feel that my experience is on track for this industry/position?
- If you could do things all over again, would you choose the same career path for yourself? Why? What would you change?
- How do you see jobs in this field changing in the future?
- Can you recommend any professional journals and organizations that would help me learn more about this field?
- Be Professional: Dress in proper interview attire, as you would for a typical in-person interview.
- Be Punctual and Prepared: Arrive early and bring well thought-out questions. Do your research in advance.
- Pace and flow: Include open-ended questions that encourage conversation, rather than “yes” or “no” questions.
- Follow up: Send a prompt and well-written thank you letter via email or postal mail. And, follow through on any promises or deliverables discussed at the interview (e.g., sending a writing sample or your portfolio).
Aside from the wealth of knowledge you can gain about a particular company, use the informational interview as a time to become your own advocate. Consider the informational interview a learning experience and an opportunity to showcase your personal skills, knowledge and abilities. You want to make an excellent first impression so that the person you talk with may think of you, if a position for which you’d be qualified becomes available. And when you are in the position to do so, try to pay it forward to a friend in need in the future!
By Lisa P. Cohn, PHR, JCS Career Center
JCS offers a full range of career services. For more information about the JCS Career Center click here or call 410-466-9200.
This Job Seekers Guide was compiled and written by Denise Felder and Shelia Cunningham McComb of iSeek solutions. Additional editing for the Baltimore Job Seekers Guide was provided by Christina Rogers, Career Counselor and Career Development Consultant.