Job Search Series VI.a: Informational Interviews

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Informational interviews are…an interview you arrange with somebody to get more information about their industry, their profession or the business they work in.

Things to have in mind about informational interviews:

  • They are not job interviews, so don’t bring your resume up front and don’t mention the word “job”
  • Go prepared; don’t ask for obvious things you could have found in their LinkedIn, the company website or some other easy source. This shows poorly about your planning and researching skills and a disrespect for the person’s time
  • While informational interviews are NOT job interviews, many end up being one (mostly when you interview somebody with good connections or power inside the organization). This means that the way you dress, behave, the questions you ask and the way you thank the person and follow up with them have all the potential to either hinder or help your cause…
  • Although you (or somebody else who made the connection for you) bring up the idea of the informational interview, the interviewee needs to control the day, time and location. You can make suggestions, never impose
  • Don’t push people: they are giving you their time. If they are too busy or show no interest, ask if they would feel more comfortable with a phone interview or sending them the questions via email
  • If they still say no, ask whether they know somebody else they can refer you to. Always keep a good and open attitude and thank them for their time
  • Prepare the questions in advance, but not too many. You may bring a notebook, but relax and use it as a reminder, don’t overwhelm your interlocutor
  • Allow the person to flow, don’t force the speed or the responses
  • Listen and take notes (but not too many, you don’t want to be seen as a journalist or a spy)
  • While informational interviews are not job interviews, you still have to dress professionally and be formal: looking too comfortable may create a wrong impression. Be polite and friendly but keep your professionalism all the time
  • Keep your promises: if you told the person that this was going to be 10 minutes, stick to the 10 minutes. If the person is still talking, ask them if they are OK with the time, or offer to meet/call them again to continue
  • If you email the questions, make sure you review your grammar and spelling and give the person enough time to answer. Don’t impose deadlines

What you can ask (sample questions):

  • “What do you see as major trends in this industry? (or profession?)”
  • “What would be your advice for somebody trying to get into this industry sector/business/profession?”
  • “Is there any specific training, certification or experience you highly suggest to get?” or…”do your organization have preferences with people graduating from a particular school, course, etc.?”
  • “What is the best way to apply for jobs in this industry/profession? Are you aware of a specialized website, recruiter, etc. who deals with this?”
  • “ What are the most important conferences, events, groups or associations a person interested in this profession/industry should attend or join?”
  • “If you feel comfortable, and with no commitment at all, would you look at my resume? I would like a professional tell me what is lacking and what is good”
  • “Thank you for your time and expertise, it was really helpful. I will leave my (business card) with you, if you happen to know about other professionals I could talk to, please let me know. I’m open to opportunities for internships or jobs in this industry. Feel free to contact me if you think I may be a good candidate.”

Things you don’t want to ask:

  • “How much a person with your education and experience earns?”
  • “How do I get a job here?”
  • “Would you take my resume to your boss?”
  • “What type of services, goods or work do you do here?”
  • “Is your organization looking for people like me?”

As usual:

  • Be punctual
  • Avoid too much perfume (most places in Canada are specifically scent-free)
  • Dress professionally
  • Bring your portfolio with samples of your resume (but don’t show this unless asked or if you find the person open to take a look, never as a job-search approach)
  • Bring your business cards
  • Send a “thank you” note or email after (short)

Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Do not bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.”
~ William Faulkner

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