In a recent article, career expert Brenda Blackburn espouses the benefits of Informational Interviews, but how does one get started? Below are some tips Brenda offers to dive into the informational interview and take that next important step in your career.
Step 1: Network, network, network!
- Create a networking contact list. Start by adding your friends, family, organizations, neighbours and business/community contacts. Then start searching online, through social media sites (such as LinkedIn and Twitter), the yellow pages, directories, newspapers, associations etc.
- Each time you talk with someone, don’t be shy and ask for referrals (I always ask for two) and suggestions of whom you might speak to next.
- You’ll want to speak with several people in the industry before making any decisions, and should consider speaking with all levels of professionals in the field.
Step 2: A little preparation goes a long way
- Be able to state concisely what information you’re looking for, your objective, and goals.
- Create calling cards to distribute to everyone you come in contact with.
- Thoroughly research the website of the professional or employer’s organization you are interviewing.
- Prepare a list of questions, including ones customized for your specific career research.
- Keep your career exploration information together and well organized. Consider preparing a professional portfolio or binder with your questions, research, company information, your resume and any other pertinent information.
- Prepare telephone scripts for setting interview appointments. You’ll want one for seeking contacts (i.e. from a receptionist) and one for direct contact.
- Practice by role-playing. If you feel uncomfortable at first, try practicing with a friend or family member.
Step 3: Set the appointments
- Utilize your phone scripts. They will help you to sound professional, as well as help you to stay focused, articulate and concise.
- Smile while you dial! People can tell! It works and can change the entire tone of a conversation.
- Mention your referral if you have one. Explain your purpose and be to the point. This is not a job interview – it is simply a request for information. Most people are flattered!
- Ask for a set period of time to meet (e.g. 15 or 20 minutes.)
Step 4: Conduct the interview
- Treat this interview as a formal job interview. Dress appropriately, be well groomed, polite, organized, prepared, punctual, sharp, and alert.
- Always greet people with a warm, friendly smile and a firm handshake.
- Have a good two-way conversation. Ask your questions, making sure you get the information you need about the occupation. At the same time, be willing to share some information about yourself and your occupational goals.
- Be relaxed. There is no need to be nervous or intimidated. This interview is not for a job (not now at least), but you are making the crucial first impression.
- Be sure to ask for the names of other people you could speak with. Be open to other ideas and avenues. Ask for at least two other contacts.
- Courteously follow the time frame agreed upon. If it was 15 minutes, stop at that point to thank them for their time. Quite often they are happy to extend, so count on spending more time there just in case!
- Thank them for their time and ask for a couple of their business cards. Your closing needs to be strong, as it will leave a lasting impression.
Don’t forget to stay objective during the process. I once had a client who, after his first informational interview, announced that sadly he supposed the career of interest wouldn’t be for him. The reason? He interviewed someone who had negative things to say about the job and his company. Remember, information from one source does not make it so. You have to conduct multiple interviews to substantiate views and separate fact from fiction. Stay positive and stay with it!
Step 5: Follow-up
- Just as you would do after a job interview, write a formal thank you card (or at least an email) to each person you conducted research with. This reinforces your sincerity and professionalism, and will encourage the contact person to speak with you again if you need to.
- Keep in touch with people who you think might be able to help.
- It is not uncommon that the contacts gained from informational interviews later turn into actual job leads. It has been said that while 1 in 200 resumes turns into a job interview, 1 in 12 information interviews results in a job!
So before you jump head first into a new career, commit to the research involved with information interviews. By doing so you will be able to rest assured that you are making the best possible decision. Have fun and enjoy meeting new people along the way!
Articles Related to Informational Interviews:
- Networking Advice
- Top Five Business Card Design Tips
- Networking for Work – Six Degrees of Separation
- The interview’s over – now what?