Informational Interviews: The Secret Job Search Tool
Unlike a job interview, which are meant to assess candidates’ fit for a position and the company’s corporate culture, informational interviews are a job search tool.
You, as a job seeker, are arranging a meeting to speak with a professional within an industry in order to find out more about their work life and what you can expect to encounter if you decide to pursue a similar career.
On the flip side, some hiring managers are also keen to block out time for this type of interview – especially for candidates who show great potential – as it lets them build hiring pipelines for future positions.
The benefits of an informational interview
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that informational interviews are a sure-fire way of landing a job opportunity.
Many prospective candidates get disappointed when they don’t get called back for a second interview, but informational interviews are nothing more than a method for you to find out more about a job!
What you can (and should) expect to get out of informational interviews include:
• Information (of course)
In a job interview, the hiring manager asks you the questions and you answer. Conversely, in an informational interview, you hold the reins and get to ask most of the questions – and this is a golden opportunity for any job applicants to find out the answers to their deepest curiosity!
Make sure you do your research and prepare a list of questions before the interview to ensure that you ask everything that you want to know. Don’t worry about limiting yourself to only a few questions.
The hiring manager has graciously opened up a time slot for you, and you should show your appreciation by treating it with equal respect and enthusiasm. During the session, try to keep things relaxed and conversational instead of stilted and formal.
Be careful not to be too informal, though! This is still a professional activity, after all.
• Employment leads
While we did say that you shouldn’t be expecting any job offers at the end of these sessions, it doesn’t mean that you can’t ask about opportunities!
Informational interviews let hiring managers keep a lookout for candidates for future roles, and most are more than happy to talk about a potential position that you might be interested in in the future.
Avoid pestering your interviewers about future opportunities, though. The occasional follow-up is acceptable, but sending them persistent texts every few days about potential roles is no different from begging, and it is guaranteed to hurt your job search.
In some cases, some hiring managers may not have an immediate vacancy to fill in their department. However, they might know of somewhere else where you might fit in, and refer you there.
Even you don’t get referred to an immediate job opportunity, it’s already a huge victory if a hiring manager/recruiter can put in a good word for you and introduce you to another contact (who might just open new doors for you whether now or in the future).
For this reason, it’s important that you make the best first impression possible and to always treat informational interviews as opportunities to expand your professional network!
• Building confidence
Informational interviews can be a way to help you build up your confidence before going for an actual job interview. It lets you get a feel for how job interviews may be like, but without the fear of rejection that comes with it.
The potential gain of information and contacts are an added bonus too, since you can use those as talking points in a hiring interview!
How do you get an informational interview?
To scout for informational interview opportunities, you first need to identify two things: an occupation, and people to interview.
Start by deciding on an industry and a few positions that you’re interested in. There’s no need to confine yourself to asking only about one job title as it’s logical for a fresh graduate to want to explore their options.
Don’t overwhelm your interviewee, though, and always make sure that the occupation you want to ask about is something that your interviewee is familiar with.
Once you’ve decided on that, start listing people whom you already know – both online and offline.
Friends, fellow students, lecturers, professors, family friends, networking contacts and LinkedIn contacts are only some of the people whom you can speak to for information, and expand your reach from there.
If you’re brave enough, you can even contact an organisation and ask for the contact details of a person working in a similar position as the one you’re interested in.
Get in touch with him or her if possible. While this may sound daredevil-ish, it certainly showcases you as a resilient and determined applicant.
Don’t forget your career advisors and university alumni as well – those are often a ready source of industry contacts.
Many graduates also find informational interview opportunities at career fairs and employer presentations, where they get to speak face-to-face with a company representative.
Approach them and ask if they could refer you to someone for an informational interview.
Dress code for informational interviews
Informational interviews are typically informal and conversational. However, this doesn’t mean that you can show up for one in jeans and flip flops!
Dress up for an informational interview the way you would for a regular job interview.
Don’t miss out on a chance to leave a good first impression!