Often the most current information about a career field, especially in a specific geographic location, may not be available online or in books. The best information comes from people who are actually working in that career field. Kind of makes sense, doesn’t it.
That’s where an informational interview can be very beneficial. An informational interview is an informal conversation with someone working in an area that interests you and who will offer you insight and advice. It is not a job interview, where you are vying with countless other candidates for one coveted position and the objective is not to find job openings. It is simply to gain further information about a career you might be interested in or a company you would like to work for. It can also expand your personal network and help you to gain valuable insights about your chosen career or industry in 30 minutes or less. All you need is a computer or smart phone.
Recently, it’s becoming more common to do these potential career-boosting interviews via video. Just like you would FaceTime or Skype with friends, the technology required to get online is pretty simple to use and you most likely already have it available to you and you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your own home or office.
Career coach and resume writer, Kristin Johnson offers these tips on how to go about scheduling an informational interview and ways to make the most of it to help you on your career path.
Be prepared. Remember, this is an opportunity for you to get an inside look at how the company or industry operates and what it takes to be successful in your contact’s profession. Since many people enjoy talking about themselves, showing interest in your contact’s personal career path may be a great way for you to gain some valuable insights while helping them warm up to you. It’s perfectly okay to ask about typical salaries and benefits for a position, but steer clear of asking your contact for specifics on their personal pay rate.
Practice (not just in front of the mirror with a partner, preferably) Set up your monitor or laptop screen so that it captures your head and torso, and make sure the camera angle is straight-on. An up-the-nose shot won’t do you any favors. Make sure that what appears behind you looks neat and pleasant, without any distractions. Check the audio level to make sure you can be heard clearly. And while you may be tempted to look at your computer screen while talking, you’ll appear at your best if you look into the camera instead. Smile!
Dress the part. You may be Skyping in your bedroom, but you’ll still want to dress as if you’re meeting your contact face-to-face. If a car alarm blaring through your open windows or the dog scratching and whining at the door forces you to get up, you don’t want your interviewer to catch a glimpse of you in your favorite yoga pants or ratty boxers.
Ask for help. Keep in mind that your contact has agreed to give you information, not a job offer. Don’t pressure them for help getting your resume in front of key decision-makers. Instead, ask them if they know of other people you could talk to within their company or industry. When you really do want a job, this may feel counter-intuitive. But the whole point of the informational interview is to find out more about the company or industry you would like to work for… while helping make connections with people who may remember you later when a position does open up.
Say thanks and follow up. Make sure you thank your contact for their cooperation during your conversation. It’s also a smart move to follow up with a handwritten note or e-mail to thank them for their time, and to update them on any successes you may realize as a result of their help. They will be more likely to remember you favorably when you’re appreciative of their willingness to speak with you, and that will work to your benefit if they later learn of an open position that may suit you.
Don’t be afraid to come out of your comfort zone and into the world of virtual informational interviews. With a little courage and practice, soon you’ll be making connections that will help inform and guide your career choices.