As a student curious about different industries, employers and positions, conducting research online is a good start, but eventually you'll need to move onto building relationships through networking. In other words, if you want to know what it means to be an art therapist in a children's hospital, how to get started and what traits are needed for success, you want to speak with an art therapist at a children's hospital. Informational interviews can help you make that happen.
What Are Informational Interviews?
Informational interviews represent a way to grow your network, advance your career and find new opportunities. At their core, they are conversations with professionals who can share insights on industries, employers and positions, or even geographical locations. Their main purpose is to gather information: details to help you clarify if something is a good fit, insights to help you identify skill gaps and knowledge to help you customize your applications.
Informational interviews can be part of your exploration or your job search strategy. You can discover possibilities you didn't know existed or you can learn about a target role you've already identified. Such interviews are starting points for professional relationships, which are key to identifying opportunities, securing interviews and getting offers. Through informational interviews, you could be way on your way to designing a career you enjoy.
Consider these steps to start adding informational interviews to your job-search strategy.
1. Clarify What Information You're Seeking
Are you interested in a field but not sure what context best aligns with your interests, abilities and values? Are you interested in exploring a specific career? Are you curious about potential employers? Or are you excited to learn how to make yourself a competitive candidate? Before you move forward, you need to know your goals. Be specific.
2. Identify People Who Can Provide That Info
Reach out to personal and professional connections for recommendations. Tap into your alumni network. Conduct online research on your target industry and employers (don't focus on big-name employers only!) to find people in roles you're curious about. LinkedIn can help with that. Read relevant industry publications (books, blogs, articles), listen to relevant podcasts and follow industry leaders on social media. Before you know it, you'll have a list of people you could connect with for further insights.
3. Research Each Person Thoroughly
Review each contact's LinkedIn profile and follow them on Twitter, Instagram or other social media sites. Check if they have a website or published content and identify any commonalities you could use in the outreach message or during the interview. In addition, find out as much as you can about the industry, the company and role — your connection will expect it from you.
Researching potential contacts helps you prepare questions to ask during the informational interview. At the end of the interview, what information would you like to have that will help you move forward with your job search? If you can't think of anything else to ask other than "do you have a job for me?" you are not ready for informational interviews.
4. Draft a Customized, Clear and Specific Message
People are willing to help, but if they can't understand what you're asking, they may not respond. Avoid simply saying that you need help, with no clarification. Your research should give you an idea of why you're reaching out, so use that to craft an effective outreach message that includes the following points:
- Introduce yourself.
- Explain what brings you to them.
- Have a simple and specific ask.
- Acknowledge their busy schedule.
- Express gratitude.
Here's a Sample Outreach Message:
My name is Chris, and I'm a junior interested in international development. I've been following your LinkedIn posts for a few months now and am quite intrigued about your work in the field, specifically in Mozambique. I'm curious if you'd be willing to answer questions about getting started in the field and skills you believe are most relevant. I know your schedule is packed so no need to respond in depth. Should you have 10 or so minutes to chat, I'd be really grateful. If not, no worries!
Have a wonderful week!
Remember that templates are great to start with, but your goal is to make the message your own. You want it to sound genuine! Don't forget to update your LinkedIn profile and clean up your online presence because the person you reach out to may research you before responding.
5. Prepare Questions
I doubt you want your brand to be "a person who knows nothing and is waiting for someone else to figure it out for them." People are willing to help those who show commitment to helping themselves first, so don't go into the informational interview expecting the other person to lead the conversation. The responsibility is on you to be ready to introduce yourself and ask questions (have at least five).
Your questions need to be thoughtful and relevant to the person you are speaking with. Let them talk about themselves: they'll like you more that way! If the conversation goes well, they may bring up a position themselves and that's awesome, but don't be the one to do it. When you ask for a job before establishing a connection, you'd probably be redirected to the main job board, which will prevent the conversation from turning into a meaningful relationship.
Instead, depending on your goal, you could ask about:
- Their career path: What motivated you to transition from marketing to IT? You've been in education for five years: what keeps you engaged?
- Education, training, skills and credentials needed for success in the industry/role.
- Day-to-day responsibilities: What do you enjoy most? What's a challenge you face?
- The industry's future: How is AI impacting this industry?
- Advice and next steps: What do you recommend I read/do/listen to? Who else would you recommend that I reach out to or follow?
Take notes and ask clarifying questions if needed. It shows that you are listening and that you truly want to learn.
6. Follow up and Stay in Touch
An informational interview is not a one-time interaction, so don't dismiss it as useless if it doesn't lead to a job offer. An informational interview is simply the first step in building a relationship. Express gratitude at the end of the conversation and follow up with a written thank-you note: mention what you've learned and what you plan to do next. If you haven't already done so, connect with your contact on social media.
Beyond the initial conversation, keep your contacts updated on how their advice helped you move forward. If the person recommends resources (books, blogs, podcasts), check them out and share your takeaways. If they mention a challenge, consider pitching your idea to address it. Give before you take! If they recommend other people to connect with, do so and let them know of your progress.
Does preparing for, scheduling and following up on informational interviews take time? Yes it does. Is it worth spending that amount of time? Yes it is. To stay organized, create a spreadsheet with details related to each contact, the interactions you've had and any planned follow-ups. Initiate conversations with multiple professionals and gain a robust understanding of the field. The more information you gather, the more knowledge you have and the more confident you become with networking and interviewing.
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