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an informational interview?
general, an informational interview is a meeting or conversation between two
people: someone who wants to learn more about a particular career and someone
who works in that career field. For example, if you are a recent college
graduate interested in becoming a dentist, you would pursue informational
interviews with experienced dentists. Or, if you wanted to go into investment
banking, you might arrange meetings with executives at Goldman Sachs or Morgan
Stanley. Keep in mind that an informational interview is NOT a job interview.
do I want to conduct informational interviews?
interviewing is an excellent way to learn more about a career you are
considering. Let's say, for example, that after extensive research you're
pretty sure you want to be a management consultant. Informational interviews
with seasoned consultants - employees at firms as well as self-employed
consultants - will help you solidify your goals.
all goes well, your informational interviews should leave you much more
knowledgeable about a particular career or field:
should have a sense of what - should you go down the career paths of your
interviewees - you would do on a daily basis.
should be able to pinpoint prospective employers. Through your interview
you'll develop an understanding what it's like to work for specific
companies, firms, or individuals, and you'll be able to make informed
decisions about what employer would be a good match for you.
will expand your list of contacts by collecting names from interviewees.
by listening to your interviewees speak, you'll begin to develop a fluency
in the vocabulary and verbal etiquette of your prospective field.
will cull information from your interviewees that, during your own job
interviews, will help you show prospective employers that you've done your
practice handling yourself well in a professional context and discussing
your own objectives.
should I interview?
you might guess, you should interview people whose perspectives will help you
make decisions about what you want to do with your life. There are two ways to
go about finding interviewees:
Connections Approach: Use your network of contacts to find interviewees.
Your network - which includes friends, family, co-workers, college alumni,
professors, and anyone else you know - might include potential interviewees.
But what is most likely is that the people in your network either know a
potential interviewee or know someone who knows a potential interviewee. And,
of course, you can always ask for names from an interviewee.
Cold Call Approach: This tactic skips the middleman entirely. You simply
choose a relevant company and contact the person who's in the position that
interests you. You can usually find names pretty easily on company websites
and in company literature. However, if that doesn't work, call the main
switchboard of the organization and ask, for example, for the name and phone
number or email address of the head of advertising.
should I set up a meeting?
three main ways of making contact are telephone, email, and snail mail. If you
call your potential interviewee, it might help to write down what you plan to
say ahead of time. If you send something written, be sure to proofread your
missive. It is especially important that you do not say or do anything that
makes it sound as though you're trying to get the person to hire you. While
that would be nice, it's not the point of the informational interview.
Telephone calls, emails, and letters basically follow the same structure:
2. Explain that you're interested in the field in question, but that you
would like to learn more about it through someone like your potential
interviewee, who has a lot of experience and wisdom.
3. Give a specific reason you're interested in talking to the potential
interviewee - you'll show you're serious and focused when you, for example,
tell the head of a public relations firm that you know her organization does
a lot of work for environmental groups, and you're specifically interested
in that aspect of PR.
4. Ask if the person has time for a 30-minute meeting during which you could
learn more about the interviewees' work and thoughts about their
whole process of contacting interviewees might make you a little nervous - if
you're new to the working world and low on the totem pole, calling up a
business executive can be a little frightening. You may be especially hesitant
because you feel like you have nothing to offer in return for that executive's
time. Relax. Most successful members of the working world have an intimate
understanding of the networking system. They know that when they were
inexperienced, seasoned professionals helped them out. And now that they're
the high-level executives, they'll talk to you at a business conference or
grant you a 30-minute meeting - with the understanding that when you're a big
shot, you'll take a few minutes out of a busy day to advise a newcomer about
your line of work. And, if that answer doesn't satisfy you, remember that most
people love talking about themselves and relish the experience of feeling like
an important expert in their field.
do I prepare for an informational interview?
impossible to overvalue the importance of preparing for your informational
interview. The more research you've done about the interviewee's background,
accomplishments, line of work, company, and current projects, the better the
conversation will be. And, if you impress the interviewee with your
preparation, he or she will be much more inclined to help you and take you
some time looking at the interviewee's company's Website. Read articles about
current issues in the interviewee's line of work, about the company itself,
and about the interviewee. Then, make a list of questions. It maybe helpful to
put your questions in order of priority so that if you run out of time, you
will have addressed the most important issues. Your questions might address
lifestyle, education, daily tasks, the future of the interviewee's industry,
office culture, and what the interviewee might do differently if he or she
could do something over again. Just remember it's inappropriate to ask
personal questions - you should be having a professional exchange.
do I conduct the informational interview?
made a contact with someone and they've agreed to meet with you in person.
Though you shouldn't grovel at the sight of your networking contact, be
considerate and appreciative of his or her time. Your face-to-face meeting
should last no longer than you promised it would (20 or 30 minutes), and your
conversation should follow a specific sequence. Begin by introducing yourself
and stating the reason for the meeting. This should lead directly into an
explanation of how your new contact might be able to help you out. Next,
briefly explain your background so that you contact can put your questions and
requests in an appropriate context. The next step is to ask your specific,
prepared questions. However, your prepared inquiries shouldn't keep you from
asking relevant questions that you think of during the meeting. Part of having
a good exchange is reacting to and listening to your contact, and this means,
in some cases, that your conversation will go down a different path than the
one you originally intended. Then, at the end of the meeting, ask for two or
three names of others who might be helpful to you. Be sure to ask your contact
if you can use his or her name when you contact the referrals. End the meeting
with the door open for future contact.
do I follow up after the informational interview?
send a thank you note to the interviewee. Mention specific aspects of the
conversation that you found helpful, and acknowledge the interviewee's
generosity in speaking with you. Make a point to keep in touch with the
interviewee after your conversation with him or her. For example, if you get a
job, let him or her know of your progress.