There comes a point in every college student’s educational career when they need to begin thinking more seriously about what they actually want to do for a living when their time in school comes to an end. Or, if they are still in high school, an insight into the realities of an occupation they are interested in can help them make the right choices as they begin their college applications. For these students going on informational interviews can be very helpful.
An informational interview is not about getting a job. Instead it is a meeting with a professional already working in an industry and/or niche, an opportunity to gain important insider insight and to begin building the all-important professional network that will benefit students later, when they are ready to begin seeking employment for real.
Informational Interviews – The Basics
An informational interview is very different from a job interview as the student will essentially be interviewing the person who has been gracious enough to share their time. It’s up to the student to formulate intelligent questions before the meeting so that they come away with all the information that they were hoping for. Researching the person and the company they work for is a must, not only so that the right questions can be posed but also to demonstrate a true interest in what they have to say.
What Can Be Achieved from an Informational Interview?
When you participate in an informational interview you can potentially gain some – or all – of the following benefits:
- You gain an “insider’s perspective” into a certain job that you could never learn from reading a classified advertisement for a job or a textbook in class. Not only will you have a better insight into the real day to day duties involved in the kinds of positions you are interested in obtaining, but also the real skills and attributes that hiring managers in your field are looking for, not just the “keywords” that they put into job advertisements they may place.
- You often gain access to management level executives and they can often help you understand how to tap the “hidden job market’ within your industry.
- In a more relaxed situation, where the interview pressure off, you are more likely to be able to ask the kind of relevant questions that you should ask in a “real interview”, so it can be excellent practice for those that will come later down the line.
How to Identify Potential Informational Interviewers
Students searching for possible informational interviewers should begin close to home. Speaking with friends, family or acquaintances can often provide you with just the right name, or contact to interview. It is often surprisingly easy for motivated high school or college students to gain an informational interview, as most executives do tend to like the idea of providing mentorship to younger people.
You still have to go about requesting in an interview in the right way though. According to Layne Davlin, who runs a professional employer organization in Georgia, “The key to successfully landing an informational interview is to make it clear from the first letter or email you send to your target that you are not looking to find a job, only to benefit from their knowledge.”
With this in mind a letter (a letter is better than an email, even in this electronic age) should:
- Introduce the potential informational interviewer to you
- Very briefly describe your educational background and why it is that you are interested in the contact’s organization and meeting with them specifically.
- State exactly how you believe the reader can help you.
- State a day when you intend to follow up the request letter by telephone
- Be brief and to the point, and polite without pandering.
At the Informational Interview
You should certainly wear your best interview outfit to your informational interview but you need to make it clear (once more) that you are not there for a job, but to benefit from your interviewer’s experience and knowledge. Listen carefully to what they have to say and, of course, make notes that you can refer back to later.
After the interview is over, send a formal thank you note to your interviewer (and include your contact information) Again, send a formal written note, not an email, as doing so is far more professional and creates a good lasting impression.