Soon after graduating college, I was in a crossroads in my career. I didn’t love what I was doing and I didn’t have a great idea of what I wanted to do next. After assessing my interests and strengths, I asked family and friends for some contacts. I figured it was best to talk to others who had gone down a career path I was considering before I invested further in pursuing my own. I started with a former coworker that was in graduate school, and this spurred five or six other career conversations with a variety of professionals. The value I gleaned from these experiences is almost indescribable and has propelled me into my graduate studies and the career I am now pursuing.
Though it’s important to master the basics of job search such as resumes, cover letters and interviewing, in this day and age the basics may not always land you in the job, or career you want. Informational interviewing is the secret ingredient to success. These are formal or informal conversations (depending on the nature of the relationship) that last 20-30 minutes where you, the job seeker, interview someone else. The person you ask to interview should be someone working in the industry you want to work in, the company you are researching, or who holds the position you envision yourself having. The wisdom, tailored advice and lessons learned shared can help you in many ways, such as:
- Exploring career options
- Discovering employment opportunities that are not advertised
- Expanding your network
- Building confidence for your job interviews
- Identifying areas for growth
- …And more!
When just starting your career, investing in informational interviewing will help focus your energy on the right things, ultimately propelling your career forward.
I know what you’re thinking- “Who do I know that can help me and why would they want to take their time for this?” First, I guarantee there are people you can initially reach out to; parents’ friends, your friends’ friends, your siblings’ friends, your current or old boss’ friends, (ahem, Levo League) etc. With networking, you’re bound to find someone you know that knows someone you want to interview. Second, people want to help others! Think about your altruistic self and how much you enjoy helping others; other people feel that way too. I’ve done more than 15 informational interviews and I only had a relationship with two or three of them before I reached out.
Now for the basic how to’s:
1. Email is generally the preferred method to contact someone. Keep it short and simple- let them know why you are contacting them, how much time you are asking for, and a bit about yourself (include a resume if you think it’s appropriate).
2. Once the interview is scheduled, it’s time to do your homework! Here’s a short checklist to make sure you are prepped and ready:
- Research the person’s career history- Google their name, check out their LinkedIn profile; find shared experiences or interests that will help form a mutual connection.
- Research the company and industry they work for so you can cut out the basics and dig deep during your short time with them.
- Prepare a list of 7-10 questions to ask. Some examples are: What do you like most about the work you do? What do you find the most challenging? If you could go back X number of years, what advice would you give yourself? What additional experience do you think I need to be competitive for X job? A key question for the end: Is there anyone else you know that you think I should talk to? This is how one conversation spurs the next, and the next, and the next…
3. Prepare an elevator pitch so that you can start the interview strong: who you are and what you are looking for from the conversation.
4. Show up to the interview. This means more than being present and on time. Make sure you are dressed appropriately if in person, or that you are in a quiet space if over the phone. Be engaged, appreciative, and take notes!
5. Follow up. Always send a thank you note within 24 hours (just like you would for a typical interview) and if the conversation went well, be sure to keep them in the loop about your progress. I’ve done this with the few people who I thought I connected with the most and they’ve led to fulfilling long-term mentor relationships.
Though informational interviewing can be a scary endeavor, I implore you to try it. It is rewarding, both personally and professionally, to hear others’ stories and implement their advice in your own journey. Take this special opportunity at the beginning of your career to dive in head first into the wisdom of the community around you.
Photo Courtesy of eHow