Have you ever heard the saying it's not what you know but who you know? Well, it's true. And now we're going to go over one way to get your "who you know" game up.
Enter the Informational Interview.
Informational interviews are a networking technique that allows you to ask questions of people in the job/industry that you are looking to enter. It's not the typical interview, where someone is asking you questions to see why you're a good fit for their organization. It's an interview where often, you have the power. You're asking the questions to learn about the job/industry of interest and in the process are demonstrating that you're proactive and competent.
The primary purpose of informational interviews is to gather information about an industry, a specific job, or simply to learn more about the career path of a person you admire so that you can learn from the moves and mistakes they may have made. In order to get the most out of an informational interview you should be sure to do certain things before, during the interview, and after it is over.
Before the interview
If you have no idea who you want to speak to but you know what industry you are interested in utilize LinkedIn, your college/universities career services office, and your personal network to find people in the field you're interested in to connect with. Then, reach out to them via email. Here is a sample email that you can use:
My name is Gabrielle Hickmon. I hope this email finds you well! I'm reaching out because I'm interested in learning more about XYZ (if a mutual contact between you and the person you are emailing directed you to reach out to them now would be a good time to mention that - "and X person thought that you would be a good person for me to connect with").
I really like to meet new people and to expand my network. I'm currently doing XYZ, and I'm interested in XYZ.
Would you have any time next week to connect (in person or over the phone - depending upon your/their location). I am free on X day at Y time.
I'm looking forward to your response!
Once you've set up the interview it's time to get to cyber-stalking. Look at the person's LinkedIn. Research the company/field of interest. If you're prepared for the interview you will be able to get more from it.
During the Interview
If meeting the interviewee in person, make sure that you are properly dressed - ie: you should be dressed like you would for any other professional job interview. Be sure to introduce yourself and also ask the interviewee to do the same. Even though you're the one doing the interviewing, you want the interviewee to feel that you value their time, as well as, that the interview is a conversation - that it's 2-sided.
Here are some questions that you can ask:
- How did you get involved in X sector?
- What is X companies culture like/
- What are your favorite/least favorite aspects of your job?
- Is there something you with you had done differently when starting out?
- Where do you see your career path leading?
- What do you see in the future for X sector?
- What can students do on campus to gain relevant experience in X sector?
- What are some options for students looking to enter X sector?
- Are there any classes you would recommend for a student looking to follow a career path similar to yours?
- What kinds of backgrounds/experiences are sought out by X sector?
- Does your organization prefer to hire people with advanced degrees?
- Are there any special skills students should develop to work in or be more competitive for jobs in X sector?
- How would you suggest getting a job in X sector/organization?
- Is there anyone else you think I should speak to?
Make sure that you pay attention to the person you are interviewing. Make it a conversation. Ask follow up questions to what they say instead of just reading from your list of questions.
After the interview:
Be sure to send a thank you note or thank you email to your interviewee. This shows them that you not only valued their time, but also have manners. Be sure to do your best to keep in touch. Ask them their preferred method of communication, if they will connect with you on LinkedIn and if they would mind you updating them on what you're doing as you continue on through school or your job search. I've personally found that doing this helps get people on your "team" and can be very helpful when looking for internships or jobs down the line.
That's it! Happy connecting. :)
PS: Be prepared to answer questions about yourself and either send your resume by email before the interview or bring one with you if you are meeting in person. It's not uncommon for informational interviews to turn into an interview of sorts for you the interviewer as well. All the more reason to do your research on the company/field you're interested in!