I’ve found that most students who actually conduct informational interviews receive the following benefits:
- They learn about particular industries, companies, and possible job opportunities and leads
- They learn about career paths with particular college majors
- They get to meet new people or get to know acquaintances better
- They get to improve their networking and communication skills
- They get to improve their listening skills
- They get to improve their interviewing skills
- Their confidence levels increase
It’s no wonder that for many career experts, the most important career-related tool and strategy out there is indeed the informational interview. So if you haven’t heard about this particular career tool, then let me have the pleasure of introducing you to the basics of the informational interview.
What is an informational interview?
Right off the bat, I must make clear that an informational interview is not a job interview. Put simply, an informational interview is talking to someone who’s working in a job or career that you want to learn more about. It would not be appropriate to ask for a job. Instead, you are seeking career-related information.
I still remember attending a career conference about 7 years ago (boy, it doesn’t seem that long ago), where I got to hear Richard N. Bolles deliver a keynote presentation where he shared, among several other career-related topics, networking tips. When he talked inevitably about informational interviewing, he also shared that he is the one who created the concept of the informational interview as a career tool. So for those of you who like to know about such things (like I do), now you know the origins of informational interviewing. 🙂
The main goal of an informational interview
The main focus of the informational interview is to gain useful career-related information from the person that you are interviewing. The best results from an informational interview will come from someone who shares insightful information with you openly. Because people might open up to you even more if there is a connection, it’s usually an advantage if you are referred to somebody through a mutual friend, colleague, or acquaintance.
The informational interview used to be primarily for folks seeking jobs, and it still is to a great degree. An informational interview provides job seekers an opportunity to do the following:
- Learn more about a particular career field
- And perhaps most importantly, learn about possible employment opportunities
In recent years, more and more college students are doing informational interviews as a way to effectively gather information about career fields and majors. Such students are all about being in information gathering mode.
How an informational interview works
For instance, if you’re interested in considering a career as a paramedic, wouldn’t it be great to speak to someone who works as a paramedic? You could ask the following types of questions:
- What do you like most about your job?
- What do you like least about your job?
- How satisfied are you with your work?
- What’s the best way to become a paramedic?
- If you could start all over again, would you do anything differently?
- And so on…
Other than doing the paramedic work itself, or perhaps having the chance to job shadow (spending time with a paramedic during a typical work day), the next best thing to finding out what it’s really like to work as a paramedic is to directly talk to someone who is one.
The sharing of career insights from true insiders is what an informational interview is all about. Sure, you’re likely to confirm all the career information that you already know, but you just never know what valuable information or opportunities might come your way from the informational interview. Such examples of valuable information and opportunities include:
- A career path that you haven’t considered previously
- Special training you were previously unfamiliar with
- An offer for you to job shadow
- An offer to review your resume
- A list of people (referrals) whom you should contact for additional informational interviews
- An internship or job lead
And don’t forget about all the benefits of doing an informational interview that I began this post with.
So if you’re exploring career fields and deciding on a major, conducting an informational interview is a great strategy for all the reasons I’ve cited above. If doing one seems nerve wracking, then please know that just like going on actual job interviews, you’ll get better and better the more you do them. I bet if you do one right now, you’ll be eager to do another one as soon as possible because I have seen many students indicate how useful conducting an informational interview was for them and that they definitely planned to do more.
Questions: Have you ever done an informational interview? If you have, what was your experience like, and would you do one again? If you haven’t, would you now consider doing one?