The Art Of The Informational Interview

When you don't know what you want to do next, your best bet is to do Informational Interview. An Informational Interview is a casual conversation between someone in a position of presumed power and someone who is not. It’s based on the concept that most people like to hear themselves talk. It’s human nature. Once they speak about themselves to someone who is interested, they feel Seen, Heard and Understood- the 3 main goals of human beings. This results in wanting to help the person who made them feel this way – You!

Here’s a step-by-step guide to Informational Interviews:

1. Make a list of people you know, respect, and have access to. You may like them, but that’s not required.

2. Reach out to each person with an email or phone call requesting an Informational Interview. Here’s a starter script: It's been a while since we last connected; I hope you're well. I’m writing because I’m at a cross roads in my career and believe a quick conversation with you would be helpful. I’ve always respected your leadership style and smart ideas. I'm writing to ask for an informational interview; just a casual conversation to learn more about you and how you ended up where you are. Would you be so kind as to squeeze me in for 30-minute phone call or in-person meeting?

3. Google “informational interview questions.” Copy and paste the first 40 you see into a Word doc and then narrow it down to 10 maximum questions that make sense to you. There are dozens of sites and hundreds of questions to choose from. The focus is on the person with whom you’re meeting, not on you or on the company. Those can come after you establish that you’re interested in this person as a person, not as a connection to a job. Here are 5 starter questions, but please do research and find the questions that resonate for you. Note the tone is consistently inquiring about the person who is taking time out of their life to talk with you:

  • Why did this type of work interest you, and how did you get started?
  • What part of this job do you personally find most satisfying? Most challenging? Most exciting? Most boring?
  • What do you like most about working in this industry? What do you dislike most?
  • What is your professional background?
  • If you could do things all over again, would you choose the same path for yourself? Why? What would you change?

Use the same 10 questions with each interview. This enables you to focus on the conversation. Using the same Qs also makes it easier to look at the information you’ve gained from all your Informational Interviews and compare the answers. Consistency creates the ability to measure results.

4. Begin the conversation with a genuine statement of gratitude, “Thank you for taking the time to talk with me. I appreciate it.” It sets a tone of you as a listener, which is what you need to be. You ask questions and then you take notes and giggle at a funny response. Offer to help them in any way you can. Again, the focus is on them, not you.

If they say, “So tell me about you!” then you share your quick elevator pitch of where you are in your career and what you’re looking to do. Chances are they’ll ask you a few questions that will enable you to add flavor to your story and perhaps even open up the opportunity to ask them to help you. Help comes in many forms. It can be an introduction to the hiring manager, and introduction to other informational interview opportunities, or even a job offer. Be open to all of these possibilities; we never know where the next job will come from. Have fun! These conversations are pressure-free. You’re researching and learning. Laugh, joke a bit, and take notes.

If they don’t ask about you, then you accept that this person is unlikely to be generous with their help. The conversation can be filed as an interesting experience without harm.

5. Send a thank you card to every single person regardless of their generosity and help. Handwritten and email. Maybe even send a great gift if the call was especially substantial.

6. Stay in touch with the genuine and generous people even after you start the perfect job. These are the people you will interact with for the rest of your working days. If you’re lucky, you will get to help each other throughout your career. Send an email every 3-6 months with a hello and some news about you or that you saw them quoted somewhere or… Be appropriately creative with each person who has been kind enough to give you his or her time. Show gratitude and it’ll come back to you in surprisingly fun ways.

Image: WOCinTech Chat

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