Informational Interviews 101

November 30, 2011 at 4:42 pm Leave a comment

If you are searching for a job or about to start, I am sure you’ve heard a variation of this statement about a million times already: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

I hear this all the time. From relatives, friends, professors, random strangers on the street…ok, maybe not the random strangers part….BUT it does seem to me that absolutely everyone feels the need to say this once they find out you are in the process of finding a job. Even though it’s become a bit monotonous hearing the same phrase time and again, I appreciate people wanting to share this little pearl of wisdom.

Although I do believe that what you know is also very important, I have found it to be true that who you know can make a huge difference. I owe a lot of the reason I was hired for my previous job to being friends with someone who was friends with the woman who hired me. Of course, I still had to do well in the interview and show that I was a good candidate for the position, but I got my foot in the door using the “who you know” tactic.

In other words, I was networking.

I used to make fun of my friend, Bethany, because she was very intentional about cultivating her network of contacts. She made it a practice to email everyone she knew at least once every few months, just to let them know she was still there and open to new opportunities.

“You are being ridiculous”, I said, “Won’t people just find that annoying?? Especially those you barely know? And what in the world do you say to them…I wouldn’t know what to say!”

“No! It’s not ridiculous! It’s called networking, Kia!” Bethany replied, “This way, they know I am out here, searching for a job and maybe one of them will connect me to someone or something that will lead to a job now or sometime in the future.  And you don’t really have to say anything important, just let them know what you are up to, what you’re good at, that you’re still looking for a job.”

Now, I had known before that Bethany is a super smart lady, but since this conversation a year ago, I’ve realized that she was  being extra super smart! Her message has become clear to me time and time again over the last year: NETWORKING IS SUPER IMPORTANT!

Which is where our topic for this week (finally) fits in: Informational Interviews!

Here is Wikipedia‘s explanation of what an informational interview is :

“An Informational Interview is a meeting in which a job seeker asks for career and industry advice rather than employment. The job seeker uses the interview to gather information on the field, and to find employment leads and expand their professional network. This differs from a job interview because the job seeker asks the questions. The term was coined by Richard Nelson Bolles, author of the best-selling career handbook, What Color Is Your Parachute? There may or may not be a specific employment opportunity available. Nevertheless, job interview etiquette is expected.

Informational interviews are initiated by the job seeker.  There are many avenues the job seeker may pursue to obtain the informational interview. Career and social networking, newspaper want ads, job boards, placement services, company websites, trade association and professional meetings, human resource contacts, professors and teachers, job search engines, and professional recruiters.”

The Wikipedia article also has some etiquette tips for conducting an interview.

Sounds fun, right!? I sure think so. Although calling up someone you barely know, or may not know at all, and asking them if you can talk to them about their career may sound scary, trust me it will be both enjoyable and helpful.

The purpose of informational interviews is two-fold. First, talking to people about their careers and the paths they’ve traveled can give you a much better idea of what you want to do. Second, you will be making contacts and building that all-important network!

Although it is relatively easy and fun, informational interviewing is one of the most underutilized career development tools. Now that I’ve told you about it, I’m going to refer you to some other blogs to tell you how to conduct an informational interview. 

  • This article by Dawn Rosenberg McKay on About.com provides some great tips on how to set up, prepare for and conduct an informational interview.
  • A tutorial by the author mentioned above, Richard Bolles. This is a SUPER thorough step-by-step guide.
  • A blog post featured on the NY Times website by Marci Alboher that gives excellent ideas for questions you can ask your interviewee. (Also, follow the link to her post about pet peeves from the interviewee’s perspective.)

Another idea for you: Check out this website called Inspiring Experts (there are many similar sites out there, so it’s worth a Google search!) to watch videos of people sharing information about their career fields. It’s like an informational interview but you don’t have to do anything except watch! Remember, though, that this isn’t a substitute for conducting interviews with real live people!! While the videos are helpful, nothing beats a conversation in person-you get to ask questions about things you find important and build your network of contacts!  

Happy Interviewing!

And as always, if you have any questions or need any help, feel free to visit our office!

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