The word interview seems to take on a formal intimidating air, but you can think of it as a meeting with a purpose. The purpose is to learn about the person and their type of job and work environment. There are many places you can have an informational interview including a place of business, coffee shop, phone, Skype, or email. During the interview, learn what you can about the career field, the work culture, the person you are interviewing, and their expertise.
When you meet
When you meet with someone, be prepared, and on time. If you are meeting with someone with expertise in their career field, be sure to do your research and know something about their experience and their work. If it is a company you are interested in learn about their vision and work culture. If you don’t see the information on the website ask your contact during the interview about the company they work for. Be sure to thank them for their time when you meet them and ask how long they have for the meeting, typically 20-30 minutes unless you are meeting for lunch or coffee, which could be a little longer.
Meeting at the workplace
The advantage of meeting at the workplace is to see the working environment. This is especially important for careers in medical, criminal justice, education, and similar fields that have a unique work environment. You won’t know how you feel about a classroom full of kids, an ambulance arrival, or working around victims and crimes until you have been in that environment. You might meet at a workplace and observe or take a tour and then go someplace outdoors, to lunch, or a coffee shop afterwards.
If you meet at a coffee shop or for lunch you often have a little more time in a more casual atmosphere. This would be especially helpful for a second meeting. If at all possible, treat your contact to a coffee or lunch if you go out. Enjoy a more casual conversation, but stay professional.
If you want to talk with someone who is busy or not in your local area, a meeting by Skype or phone can be helpful. A phone conversation can also be good practice since many first interviews are by phone.
You can research, prepare, and email questions to your contact if needed. Email will give you the opportunity to broaden your contacts to different locations and types of work. Be sure to remember to use email etiquette: take time to think about your email and interview questions, respect your contact, and self-edit your email to make sure it is professional with no spelling or grammar errors.
Choose a few questions that are appropriate to the person and career field. Have plenty of questions ready, with the most important first, ask a question and then be ready to listen. Often people who really like their work and have an appreciation for their career field like to talk about it. If you’ve done your research and have their interest you might get answers to questions you hadn’t thought of asking.
Connect on shared experiences and interests. If possible, get the names of others in the career field you might connect with. Professionals often like to discuss others they respect who share similar theories, interests, or values.
Questions to get you started
Keep in mind the interview is not to ask about a job, but to learn about a career you are interest in, connect with professionals, and find resources. Why bother if you are not there to ask for a job? The best way to find a job, know what you want, and learn how to connect with others in your field of interest is to learn from someone with experience. Another benefit is to practice your interview skills and be observant of the other person’s reactions and responses before you get to a formal interview. Get out there and enjoy learning about careers you might be interested in.
More on Informational Interviewing
Fire Up Your Profile For LifeWork Success by Nancy Miller, Teal Publishing
The Informational Interview: It’s Just About Having Coffee by Jennifer Vancil, Career Convergence
How To Master the "Informational Interview" by Amanda Augustine, Career Thought Leaders
Questions to Ask at the Informational Interview, Quintessential Careers
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