My youngest son is about to graduate from high school and his school requires a senior project that enables students to learn about the work world before they embark on their college education. Most students do internships, but Jake did a series of informational interviews. We have all heard that informational interviews are helpful, but I want to shine light on why they are and how best to conduct them.
Informational interviews, for professionals at all levels who are interested in exploring new career paths and positions, are valuable because someone’s title is not necessarily indicative of what they actually spend their day doing. When you interview them and hear about their day to day responsibilities and challenges, you learn a great deal about the skills needed to do the work they do. Also, informational interviews, when well executed, position you with the professional you are meeting with to be a potential mentor or employer. Once someone spends time with you and you impress them (we’ll talk about how in a moment) they will be invested in your success.
Here are some specific tips for leaving a great impression while conducting your informational interview:
- Approach the professional you want to meet with thoughtfully. If you have a common contact ask them for an introduction. If it’s someone you have read or heard about, write them a sincere email and outline some great questions you would like to ask them in the email so they know that you won’t waste their time.
- Be prepared for the meeting by doing research on them through a Google search, LinkedIn, and their website. Come to the meeting with a list of questions that go beyond “Tell me about your day”. I suggest asking them about their career path and referencing something you learned about them when doing your research such as, “I noticed you had worked for a Big 4 Accounting firm prior to heading up Communications at a law firm; how were the two work environments different?” Or, “I noticed you were a journalist earlier in your career; how has that experience helped you in your current role?”
- Follow up with a thoughtful thank you note and, most importantly, stay in touch! Many informational interviews turn into new job interviews or referrals, but it could take time. I encourage you to send updates every three months or so to people you did informational interviews with to let them know where you are in your career. By doing this you will make them your mentors and they will be more likely to think about you when a new role comes along. I see proof of this everywhere I look, including in our own office as one of our current college interns did an informational interview with an in-house recruiter who referred her to us!
Informational interviews can be a powerful networking tool at all levels of your career and can help you find new talent as well as new opportunities.