If you are job hunting or researching careers, they let you get very targeted information from an industry expert, someone working in the sector you are thinking of moving into.
The phrase Informational Interview was first used by Richard Nelson Bolles in his career guide "What colour is your parachute?" They are an underused but fantastic way to get insight into a career that you are interested in, and network at the same time. You can build your network and raise your professional visibility with informational interviews. If you're someone who doesn't enjoy networking in large groups, these are a great way to connect and network one to one.
Simply put, an informational interview is where you reach out to someone and ask them to give you 15--30 minutes of their time to talk to you about the reality of working in that job, and their career journey. You interview them, much like a reporter might. Not as scary as it sounds, is it?
So how do you start? Start from where you are. Ask family and friends to introduce you to people in their networks. Have you heard of the six handshakes rule? There is an idea that everyone in the world is connected by six degrees of separation. You would be surprised at who they know, and who the people they know, know. If you are active on social media, reach out to your network. Once you identify someone, reach out to them, and ask them if they would talk to you. This can be in person or online, you really are only limited by your own imagination and determination. There are some email templates and advice in the Suggested Reading section you can use to reach out to people that you don't know.
You do need to invest some time and energy in doing some prep work before reaching out. Having a strategy will make all the difference! Start by researching the person and the organisation just as you might for a job application. Don't ask them questions where the answer is obvious and could be found easily with a quick google search or on their website or profile, which won't impress them. Think about how to make the most of this meeting and what it is you really want to know and get insight into; the good, the bad and the ugly of that career pathway. Don't forgot, this is not a job interview- the goal is not to ask for a job but to get insight from that person's career and experience. Prepare some great questions and dress to impress, how you present yourself is important too. If you're meeting in person, they're your guest, and you would pay for the coffee. If online, prepare just as you would for any online interview, make sure your tech is working and you are in a quiet place, with no distractions behind you. Always follow up afterwards and thank them and show you appreciate their time.
Asking for informational interviews does mean pushing yourself out of your comfort zone but remember, that is where the growth happens, these are powerful tools in your employability toolbox that will help you make really informed decisions about your future career. Be selective in whom you approach so you make the best use of your time and their time. Be prepared for some no's but remember, people do love to talk about themselves and there is a good chance they will accept your invitation. Maybe someone gave them an informational interview early on in their career and they want to pay it forward. If you make a good impression, they could introduce you to other colleagues in their network and become great contacts, even future mentors.
One last thought, did you know there is a hidden job market out there, in additional to all the jobs you see advertised on job boards? These jobs are not advertised but spread by word of mouth and referrals by people in networks. Can you see how important networks and informational interviews can be to your future career?
For more information and support on this topic from the University of Salford - please click here