What’s an informational interview and why should you bother? The informational interview can serve many purposes and is incredibly valuable for any job or industry. You don’t know what you don’t know!
How did someone land their dream job? They probably didn’t start there. You probably won’t either. Find someone who’s doing something you’d like to do and ask if they’d give you some time – either on the phone or in person – to talk about how they got there and what they think you can do to get to where they are. People love to talk about themselves. Most people will welcome the opportunity to share their career path with you. And chances are you’ll learn something about how the industry works and a diversity of ways to get to that dream job…or maybe learn that it’s not such a dream anymore.
Use your alumni – or your family and friends network! Maybe you’ve met and spoken with someone many times. But have you formally talked about what they do and how they got there? You know your neighbor works for a cool company, but do you know what she does there? Ask if she’ll talk with you about it. Maybe an alum you met works for a company you’ve never heard of, but was the same major you are. Ask if he’ll talk with you about his company and what he does there. Ask how his major got him to this job.
Informational interviews are advanced networking. This is an opportunity to informally present yourself as a thoughtful, reflective, bright person interested in succeeding. Whether you already know the person or not, this will give you the opportunity to learn and to present yourself in a more professional, but less stressed than interview, manner. It may give the “interviewer” some ideas on where you might fit in his organization, or he may have a friend in the industry that he’ll connect you with. After making that impression, you may find yourself with another interview.
Be sure to make the informational interview about THEM, not about you. Ask a lot of introspective questions – some prepared in advanced, but some based on what you’re listening to her say. In the process it will make an impression, and not only will you learn more about someone and something, but you will also advance your own network and reputation. Always close with a thank you and ask whether they have any suggestions for you to pursue a position like theirs (whether you’d like to or not, after learning more).
And don’t forget to follow up with a thank you note!
For more on informational interviews, read this excellent piece from US News.