For the Young Career Seeker: How to Set Up an Informational Interview
by Hallie Crawford
Thinking that you'd like to set up an informational interview in your chosen field? Good for you! An informational interview is not like a typical interview; in this case, there is no "want ad" to answer and no open position to fill. It's simply a way to make contact with someone who works at a company that interests you. It's a method of getting your name out there while learning more about careers in your industry.
If you're young and just starting out in your career, I highly recommend taking the initiative and seeking out an informational interview as a stepping stone to a great career doing something you really love. You'd be surprised how many young career seekers don't bother to set something like this up, and miss some really terrific opportunities because of it.
How to get the informational interview ball rolling:
Begin by speaking to someone in your social circle who already has a foot in the door. Also scan online for companies that appeal to you, and then ask if you can schedule an informational interview with someone in their office. You might even ask for an interview with a family member who works in a position or with a company that appeals to you.
Prepare in advance.
The very first thing you should do before this or any type of interview is update your resume. Include all of those resume basics, like your career objective, college degree, computer proficiencies, and especially any experience you may already have, including unpaid internships, temp jobs and so forth. If you need extra help with this, I suggest hiring a professional resume writer. Leave it to the pros to brush up your resume for you. You can find resume writers I recommend here: http://www.halliecrawford.com/resources.html.
Make initial contact.
When you feel ready to make contact, try sending an email first so they're not caught off guard by a random phone call. If you can't locate their email address, then the call is okay. Present yourself professionally; tell them something like, "My name is so-and-so and I'm interested in learning more about (X type of) careers at your firm. I'd love it if we could set up a time to talk." Of course, it helps to draft a couple of practice emails or do a few test-runs of your phone message before sending it out there.
Tips for a successful information interview.
1) Be clear.
Let them know up front that you're looking to set up an informational interview and would like 30 minutes or so of their time if they're willing. Tell them directly what you're wanting help with, "I'd like to learn more about what it's like to actually work in this field." Or "I want to know if someone with my personality and skills can succeed in this type of business."
2) Be prepared.
This is your chance to ask questions about the company and the industry, so write up a list of things you want to know. When the big day arrives, don't hold back. If you feel nervous about this at first, then give your interviewer the floor for the first part of the interview. Later, after you've explained your personal interest in this type of job and your experience, you can ease into asking questions. Here are some good ones:
* What does a typical day on the job consist of? * What do you like best and least about what you do? * What qualifications and experience does someone need to have in order to get a job in this field? * What is an entry level position in this field? * What are best places to look for jobs in this field? * How did you get started? * Do you know anyone else who it would be beneficial for me to talk to?
3) Be respectful of their time.
Ask how much time they have (30 minutes, an hour?) and be respectful of that. Don't just call them out of the blue and expect them to be able to talk right then. Set a time and treat this just as professionally as you would a "real" interview where they're searching for someone to fill a position. If this is a friend or family member, don't let them side-track you with long-winded chatter about personal topics. Politely remind them that you don't want to take up too much of their time but would love to learn more about what they do.
4) How and where?
You can conduct your interview over the phone or in person, whatever they prefer. I like to suggest the phone as a first option. It's less formal and will save the interviewer preparation time as well as save you money on gas! However, if they prefer to meet in person, do what works best for them. Also know that if you're really feeling good about your future at this company, then you just might want to meet up in person. You'll get the inside perspective and have the chance to be seen as well as heard. Visual impressions go a long way - so be sure you're dressed to impress!
5) Send a hand-written thank you note.
Be sure to get the mailing address of the person with whom you're interviewing. If they referred you to someone else, let the original contact know if/when you connected with them and how it went. Thank everyone "in your path" who may have led you to the informational interview. If you don't feel very confident about your handwriting, then type your letter out on stationery and send by mail. It may be tempting to just flip them a thank-you by email, but I recommend sending a note of appreciation that they can hold in their hands. It's something to remember you by, and that's what you want - to be remembered.
Best of luck in your future career endeavors.
Copyright 2007 Hallie Crawford and Authentically Speaking. All rights reserved.
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