The Informational Interview: A Job Hunter’s Best Friend

dogThere’s this amazing thing called The Informational Interview, and it is a blessing to all job seekers in Buffalo, NY. The informational interview is simply an interview with someone that is at a company you would like to work, in a field that interests you, or is knowledgeable on a particular subject. But, the most important thing you must remember about all informational interviews is to never ask for a job or expect one to come from it. They are only to learn from the person you are meeting.

Purpose of an Information Interview

You are meeting communicating with someone that can give you the details about anything that you couldn’t learn from a book or website. Topics of discussion can be based around their life at a company, how they got started in an industry, or the sharing of their knowledge of a topic such as networking. It’s also a major form of networking. It can lead to a your Resume being placed on a Recruiters desk personally, or it can just include you learning from someone else to get you one step closer to your next job. These interviews offer an inside glimpse, but at the cost of someone else”s time so it’s imperative you prepare for it.

How to Prepare for an Informational Interview

Treat it as a professional event and keep in mind the person may actually be scouting you as  a potential candidate so come prepared by writing down a list of thoughtful questions, and also think about any questions they might have for you. Your meeting may be over the phone, skype, or in-person. Whatever the medium, be sure to have a plan and keep in mind this person is taking the time out of their busy schedule to help you.

In addition, you should bring your Resume and personal business cards so you can easily hand it off to the person if they request. If meeting in person, it’s best to have it somewhere quiet. Some coffee houses get real loud at certain times (SPoT on Elmwood) so find a quiet, relaxed place to meet. You should find someplace close to where they live so you inconvenience them least. I’ve haven’t had any issues with Coffee Culture orPanera on Sheridan. Lastly, avoid alcohol if you can. Depending on who you meet this may vary, but even though it’s Buffalo, you have to asses the situation yourself.

Questions to Ask in an Informational Interview

The School of Management at UB has a list of 40 questions to ask in an informational interview, and I include the important guidelines to them here.

Most of the questions you should ask factor around getting the person to talk about their experience in their job and field. People love to talk share information and help others out so just listen after you ask the questions, don’t be too nervous, and make sure you get your questions answered. Don’t be afraid to ask them to clarify something or repeat it if you didn’t get it the first time.

I only usually as 3-5 main questions that usually have follow-up questions that expand on their answers. Even though I ask a few questions, my meetings can range from 15 mins. to 1.5 hours. The list from UB has 40 so you can choose among them to fit your needs, but I think all questions for learning about someone’s experience at a job in a certain industry come down to the basics:

  • How did you get started (FYI most people ‘fall’ into it by managers need for something to get done)
  • Is there a typical day, and what is it like if so
  • What did you like about your job, company, industry etc.
  • What didn’t you like about your job, company, industry etc.
  • Do you recommend I pursue the your job, company, industry etc.
  • What types of books, education, or training would you recommend
  • Do you know anyone else I can get in-touch with about this, and can I use you as a referral

The last question is one of the most important because you can continue to move forward with it in your job hunt. It’s hard enough to find strangers to reach out to so it’s so much easier if you have a nice introduction from someone who already knows you.

What to Do After the Informational Interview

Send them a thank you letter the next day. Connect with them on LinkedIn. Follow-up on any referrals they have given you. Breath and be happy with your accomplishment if you went beyond your comfort zone. I know I was nervous during for my first informational interview with someone I haven’t met, and the boost of confidence I got was outstanding.

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