An information interview is a meeting that allows a job seeker or career changer to learn more about a specific type of job and make important business connections within an industry.
Most people are quite nervous or skeptical about the idea of calling an employer to arrange this type of meeting. However, in my opinion, it is one of the best ways to get unbiased, in-depth information about a specific career, and it is well-worth pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone to do a few.
Here's how to get started.
Informational interviews are all about gathering information about a specific type of job or industry. They are not about asking for a job.
Information interviews are a fantastic and under-used strategy for learning about a new career and developing your business network. They can help you to:
You can either talk to someone who does the type of work you would like to do, or you could talk to a human resources professional (or a manager/business owner if it is a smaller company without an HR department) who works in the industry that is of interest to you.
In general, people who do the type of job you would like to do are great at explaining the responsibilities, rewards and stresses of the job. They are often not so good at providing information about the labor market in the industry or qualifications required to get started in the field.
On the other hand, HR professionals in the industry are great sources of information about labor market, salaries, required qualifications and typical career path, but they can't always provide detailed information about what it is like to do the job on a day to day basis.
Once you have determined the type of job you'd like to learn more about, look for a company that hires people to do that type of job.
Make Use of Your Network
Information interviews are easier to set up and less intimidating to do if you can start out by talking with someone who is already a part of your network, or someone who has a mutual friend in common with you.
Ask people you already know if they know anyone who works within the industry that interests you and if they might connect you with that person so you can learn a bit more about the industry.
Or Cold Contact People if Necessary
If none of your existing contacts know someone in the industry, your next step is to cold contact someone within the industry.
You may be nervous about cold contacting people to set up informational interviews, but don't let that stop you. People are surprisingly receptive to this request.
If you are nervous, make some notes about what you want to say to help you stay focused. Also, don't call your favorite company first. You get better at this the more you do it.
If, for example, you have a list of four companies where you'd like to do informational interviews, but one company stands out as your favorite, call people at the other companies first. Practice on them, and then call your favorite company once you are more comfortable with the process.
If possible, find the name of the person you want to talk to. It will make it easier to get through to the person and avoid being screened by a receptionist. Company websites, business directories and LinkedIn are good starting points for finding the name of someone to talk to within a company.
Your goal should be to speak directly to the person on the phone.
When you are on the phone with the person you'd like to meet with, you might say something along the lines of the following:
If it is a cold contact
"Hello, my name is Sam Smith. I'm considering a career in forensic science, and I am doing some research about this field of work. I wonder if I could set up a 15 to 20 minute meeting to come in and ask you a few brief questions about the field."
If you have a mutual contact, mention the name of the mutual contact
"Hello, my name is Sam Smith. I'm considering a career in forensic science, and my friend, Barb Jones, mentioned that you'd be a good person to contact to learn more about the field. I wonder if I could set up a 15 to 20 minute meeting to come in and ask you a few brief questions."
Do not send an email, and do not leave a voice mail message if it can be avoided.
Email and voice mail are too easy to ignore. You have a much better chance of setting up an information interview if you speak directly to the person.
If you get voice mail, instead of leaving a message, try calling back at another time. If you constantly get voice mail, after a couple of calls, leave a message saying who you are, why you are calling and state that you will call them back.
For example, a voice mail message you might leave could be, "Hello, my name is Sam Smith. I am researching the field of forensic science, and I wonder if I could ask you a few brief questions. I'm sorry I missed you, I will call you back this week."
By stating that you will call the person back, you maintain control of the situation. You don't have to sit by the phone waiting for them to call you, and you can try contacting them again in the next day or two.
When I talk to clients about information interviews, I know they are completely skeptical about the process.
Most people think that other people can't be bothered to grant an information interview or they don't have the time.
I can tell you from doing my own information interviews and helping clients with theirs, people are surprisingly willing to grant this type of interview.
In my own experience, I've had an 80% success rate. So, if I called 5 people, 4 were willing to meet me for an information interview.
Occasionally, the person you contact will prefer to answer questions over the phone. That situation is not ideal; you will make a much better connection if you can meet the person face to face. However, you should have your list of information interview questions ready when you call to set up the interview, just in case the person prefers to answer questions on the phone during your initial call.
Set Yourself Up for Success
Do be respectful of people's time when you call, and call when you have the greatest chance of success.
If you call accountants in the middle of tax season, or you call a restaurant manager in the middle of the lunch time rush, they won't have the time to grant you an information interview, and they will feel like you don't have any understanding of their business.
Try to determine the quieter times (either time of day, or time of year) in the industry that interests you, and try to request an interview in those down times.
Thoroughly research the company and the industry before your interview so you can ask intelligent, well thought out questions. Review the company's website and (if they are active with social media) Facebook page and Twitter feed. Also, check LinkedIn to see if the person you will be interviewing has a profile that you can review.
Do not ask questions that can easily be answered by reading the company's promotional literature or website. Ask questions that only someone inside the company could answer. This approach makes the best use of your time and shows respect for the person who has granted you the interview.
This list of informational interview questions is a good, general starting point, but be sure to also ask industry specific questions.
In addition to gathering information, you are trying to build your business network and make a great impression. Take care with your appearance and clothing to ensure you make a good first impression.
The person you are interviewing agreed to the interview under specific conditions. Do not show a lack of respect by changing those conditions during the interview.
Stick to the Pre-Arranged Time Frame
If you originally asked for 15 or 20 minutes for an interview, do not drag the interview beyond that time frame.
If the person you are interviewing chooses to spend more time with you, you can interpret that as a positive sign that they are enjoying their meeting with you, but that is something they must initiate.
Do Not Ask for a Job
The employer granted this interview as an opportunity for you to gather information, not as an opportunity for you to ask for a job. If you directly ask for a job in an information interview, many employers will feel that you got into the interview under false pretences and will not be impressed.
Do Not Offer Your Resume, But Bring One Just in Case
Again, this interview is about gathering information, not asking for a job. You can't offer to show your resume to the person you are interviewing, but occasionally someone you interview will ask to see your resume.
Have a couple of copies of your resume available just in case, but only provide a copy if the person you are interviewing asks for one.
Send a Thank You Note
After the interview, be sure to take the time to write a thank you note. Mention something specific that you enjoyed about the meeting, and be sure to thank the person for the time they spent with you.
Near the end of your information interview, ask the person you are interviewing if he or she could recommend anyone else that you could talk to about the industry or job that interests you.
If there is a job opening in the company, and the person thinks you might be a good fit, that question provides an opening for the person you are interviewing to suggest you speak with the hiring manager within the company.
If there is no job opening in the company, it provides an opportunity for the person you are interviewing to recommend another colleague, perhaps at a different company, who might be open to granting you an informational interview.
Leave a Business Card
Before you leave the informational interview, ask for the person's business card, and leave your own personal business card.
There might not be any job openings at the moment, but if something comes up, and you have provided a business card with all of your contact information, the person you interviewed will be able to contact you.
I do realize the idea of setting up an information interview is quite daunting to many people. I remember being extremely nervous the first time I did one myself.
Once I made myself do a few of these interviews, I realized people are very willing to help, and they can provide extremely valuable information that you just can't find in any other way.
I personally wouldn't make a career change or commit to any long term education without doing a few information interviews. The information you can gather and the contacts you can make are well worth any amount of nervousness you might go through in the process of arranging these meetings.