A recent blog post explained how important informational interviews are when you’re starting your career or considering a career move. Informational interviews let you ask questions of a professional who works in a role that interests you without any of the anxiety a job interview might provoke.
But if it’s not a job interview, can you be a little more casual? Remember, even if you aren’t under a microscope like when you’re interviewing for a specific role, this type of meeting is still crucial. Because you never know where a job offer will come from, you want to dress and act the part of someone your interviewee could consider for a job (or impress them enough so they might recommend you to a colleague).
Being prepared with professional questions is important, but you should also know about the person, their company, and specific field. Do a few Google searches to find out information about their company or organization. Bring along notes and a list of questions to keep the discussion short and focused, but moving along.
Before you launch into your questions, thank your interviewee for taking the time to speak with you. Let them know how you found them, what prompted you to ask them for this interview, and a little about your career goals. If they agreed to meet, they are willing to invest the time in you and are probably flattered that you asked. Keep that good feeling going by conducting a professional and efficient interview.
What are some good questions to ask? Your natural curiosity about the role is a good place to start, but here are a some questions that will get the discussion going.
How did you arrive in the role you are now in?
Was this your original career goal? If not, what made you change?
How did your educational background help you most in this position?
What professional decisions or choices helped your career track the most?
What do you like about your job?
What are your biggest challenges in this role?
What would you advise someone who wants to follow this type of career path?
What did you do that helped you advance the most – internship, volunteer, take or teach classes, get an advanced degree?
Is there anything you would do differently if you could start your career path again?
How do you stay current in the field? Do you read industry publications? Attend conferences that are especially helpful? Belong to any professional groups?
What skills should I focus on mastering if I want to advance to this level?
What changes or trends are ahead for the industry that I should be aware of ?
Do you have any advice for someone looking for a job in the field?
As you wrap up, it’s okay to ask if you can send them a LinkedIn invite and if they would recommend anyone else for you to interview. This helps build up the contacts in your network and brings you even more relevant information.
And never forget the last and most crucial piece of any informational interview – the thank you. Send it by snail mail or email, just make sure you send it.
Don’t be afraid to ask for an informational interview. With some planning, the meeting will give you lots of valuable information, make you more comfortable with formal business discussions, and expand your network.