Informational Interviews are a job seeker’s best friend | Hacker Noon

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Deb Ghosh Hacker Noon profile picture

@talentsumoDeb Ghosh

Chief Mentor and Cofounder, TalentSumo

What is an Informational Interview?

Informational interviews are a very crucial (but oft-forgotten) tool for job-seekers. The thing with informational interviews is that it kills two birds with one stone. Informational interviews give the job-seeker more insight into the job that they are interested in, and at the same time, expand their networking opportunities. Both of these are very important stepping stones for any job-hunter out there. 

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“An informational interview is a meeting featuring a conversation about a particular company or industry between you and someone who may be in a position to help you get a job in the future, either directly or indirectly,” explains Andy Teach, a corporate veteran and author of From Graduation to Corporation, in an article for Forbes.

Elliot Bell, former Director of Marketing at The Muse, says that informational interviews are, “A hybrid of an amazing networking opportunity, an info session, and a job interview, it can give anyone looking for a job or pondering a career change insider scoop (not to mention a much-needed morale boost)”.

And we cannot express how much we agree with both of them. Informational interviews are informal conversations and should be most preferably done in-person than over the phone, text, or skype. But, in the present circumstances, we understand that in-person interviews are difficult. Even then, Skype interviews and meetings over video platforms should be the next resort. We would very much discourage interviews over call or text. 

The benefits of an Informational Interview

David Parnell, a legal consultant, communication coach, and Forbes contributor, says in an article for Forbes: “While informational interviews are taken under the guise of ‘learning more about the company,’ their true purposes are to impress your connection within the company, and to gather intelligence that might help secure a job there.” This says a lot about the benefits of informational interviews. These interviews reveal a lot about particular positions and companies which are usually not available on the internet. Establishing a personal connection with someone who works in your dream company and does the same job as your dream job works wonders. Your resume receives leverage if you have an individual who works in the same team and company as one of your referrals.

The Career Centre at the University of Berkeley mentions these benefits to attending an informational interview  

  1. Get firsthand, relevant information about the realities of working within a particular field, industry, or position. This kind of information is not always available online.
  2. Find out about career paths you did not know existed.
  3. Get tips and insider knowledge about how to prepare for and land your first career position.
  4. Learn what it’s like to work at a specific organization.
  5. Initiate a professional relationship and expand your network of contacts in a specific career field; meet people who may forward job leads to you in the future.
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How to arrange for an Informational interview

Consider reaching out to someone who works in your industry and field, and who also has the same aspirations as you. Think about someone you can learn from, and who may be in a role that you would also want to have eventually. Finding a mentor in your industry, field and at your dream company can be incredibly valuable. Ideally, you should find someone who is working in your dream position at your dream company.

Once you find them, take a look at what information is available online. Research your dream job, that person’s company, etc. In short, research all that will help you know your dream job and the interviewee better. This will help you to frame a good cold email that will seem interesting to the person you are reaching out to. An interesting cold email increases the prospect of you getting a reply from the individual.

Send a very considerate, short, and crisp email requesting an interview over a cup of coffee or lunch. Please make the email look like you want to know more about the job and profession rather than you being desperate for a job. We know that you really want a job but our research shows that your email might be forwarded to a hiring manager or that individual might ask you to reach out to a career advisor if your cold email gives off such an air. Basically, they might refuse your request for an interview saying that there are other people who will be able to help you out other than them. 

How to conduct an Informational Interview

With an informational interview, the goal is to learn about the job from someone who does it for a living. “In general, it helps to talk about light topics first to break the ice and make both parties comfortable. Get the ball rolling by asking the interviewee some questions about his or her job at the company,” mentions an article on the Corporate Financial Institute and we agree wholeheartedly! Some questions which you can ask are:

  1. When did you start working at the company?
  2. What are the projects that you’ve worked on?
  3. What’s your take on this latest development in the industry?
  4. How did you get your start in this field?
  5. What’s it like working at your company?
  6. What projects are you working on right now?
  7. What’s your opinion on [exciting development in the industry]?
  8. How did you get your start in this field?

After you are done with all the warm-up, drive into the main questions to which you wanted the answers.

“Think through the insider information you want to learn from this person. What information are you seeking? Is there something you can learn from this person that would be difficult for you to learn on your own? Depending on where you are in the job search process, adjust your questions accordingly” advises Lily Zhang, a career counselor at the MIT Media Lab, in an article for The Muse

Remember that you need to extract all that you can about the job, profession, and company from this interview. So ask well-crafted, informed questions to the individual in question. Some example questions are:

  • What has been your career progression?
  • How would you describe the culture of your company?
  • What skills or abilities do I need to be competitive in this field?
  • What changes have you seen happen to this industry over the last five years?
  • What does the day-to-day look like in your role?

How to thank your Informational Interviewee

Do not forget to thank them for their time and energy. Do send them a thank you note after the interview. You can also follow them up with the updates in your career search or updates on the interviews with the individuals this person had suggested. In this way, you can ensure that your informational interviewees do not become one-time contacts but instead become part of your long-time networks.

If you are on the job search, an informational interview can be your best possible friend. Informational interviews give you the opportunity to get some information about a job before you apply for it. These interviews allow you to figure out if the company is the right fit for you. When informational interviews are done well, they provide a lot of insight into the particular company. They’re a really helpful way to learn more about the industry you want to be in, and to find out about jobs you didn’t know existed in companies that might not advertise. They’re a great way to introduce yourself to industry professionals, and to network with useful contacts. 

Now go ahead with your own informational interviews!

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