If you are changing careers or just beginning your job search, the informational interview can be your new best friend. Here are the advantages of arranging a meeting between you and someone already working where you’d like to work, or doing what you’d like to do.
1. Fact Finding
You get a clearer picture of what the industry looks like, the kinds of things you wouldn’t find on company websites or Google searches. What are the people like? Do they enjoy their work? What are the chances for advancement? Is it a difficult field for newcomers to enter? Are there biases for or against any particular age, gender, ethnicity, minority, alumnae? What is the competition for jobs like?
People are often willing to confide in you these kinds of details because they are flattered you would consider them an insider. Or they may take a big brother/big sister interest in you and want to give you an accurate picture. Or they may be venting their own disappointments or wanting to boast about their career success. You may even find a mentor.
If you speak to enough people, you’ll be able to form your own conclusions.
2. Reality Check
You’ll get advice about what you can do with your particular skill set. When my client Mark began talking with contacts in the logistics and supply chain management profession, he learned that for him to be successful, he needed an MBA that would require more money and time than he had to give. So, he switched gears and transitioned to a business analyst role.
Be open minded because as you maneuver through a succession of informational interviews, you may see there’s an allied field or a position you didn’t know existed when you first started your research.
You’ll make connections with people who will be helpful when you begin your actual job search. If you demonstrate your sincere interest – even your passion – for this profession, these folks will have a perception of you as self-motivated and pro-active. Ask for their recommendations on your LinkedIn profile. Most people are happy to help someone who could become a colleague. You are building a strong network when you do these informational interviews.
Sometimes it happens that one of the people you interview becomes your boss. (That’s a switch, isn’t it?) My friend Olivia was hired by the owner of the first company she went to when she was researching the landscaping business.
4. Big Picture
Not only will you connect with people, but you’ll discover the professional associations and industry groups that can benefit you. Find out what publications and websites these people count on for news. Do they participate in online forums or webinars? When and where are the annual conventions and other events? You’ll even be learning all the jargon and buzzwords!
You can help the people who are helping you. Don’t assume that all the players in one industry are on the same team and that they buddy up after hours. In a competitive field, industry leaders may not be on speaking terms. You can be the bearer of news about job offerings, pay scale, typical work conditions, corporate culture and other facts. Just avoid gossip or sharing confidential information.
6. Self Esteem
You’ll gain personal confidence. Starting a new job is tough enough, and starting a new career complicates the situation. If you’ve done your reconnaissance work ahead of time, once you’re working in your chosen field, you won’t feel like a total newbie. You’ll understand the territory better and you’ll have some friends in the field. Name dropping is optional.
You’ll also gain confidence that will benefit your immediate situation, when you are being interviewed for a job. Being an interviewer is bound to make you a better interviewee.
Those are my six ways informational interviews can help people looking for work. I was just kidding about them being sexy.
Who Should Use This Technique?
If you are considering a change in your career path, informational interviews can be a godsend.
If you are a recent graduate not sure how to use your major or your specialized training, informational interviews will point the way.
If you are a stay-at-home parent or retiree returning to the workforce, informational interviews will help you get up to speed.
If you are relocating to a new area, informational interviews will make the landing a little softer because you’ll know the lay of the land.
If you are unhappy in your current position, informational interviews will help you latch on to a better understanding of where you are in your career path and what you should do next.
If you have your eye on a large company you really want to work for, informational interviews with people who already work there offer all the advantages listed above.
Don’t ignore this tool to finding your dream job. I’ve seen it work many times, and it’s surprisingly easy – even enjoyable – to do. So, pick up the phone and ask someone out for lunch or coffee. Promise the person you won’t take much of his or her time. Take a list of questions and a copy of your resume to the meeting. By the way, I can help with that resume.