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
How could a job search, resume design, and letter writing be fun? I've written many cover letters and resumes for jobs I didn't really want. I dredge up skills from the past, jobs I was glad to leave, and boring experiences. With great effort I put on a happy face and talk about the reasons I want to work for a company and all of the great things I can do for them. Not fun!
So often I found it easier to market the skills I had experience with, rather than building skills I wanted to use. I could not get excited about more of the same, but like a steam roller, I used my persistence and determination to keep on going. I looked at the websites and job ads to see what was offered, rather then investigating work I wanted to spend time on. It wasn't until I hit a wall in my career that I even began to look at new possibilities. I went back to college and majored in career counseling.
As a career counseling graduate student I took a number of skills assessments. After sorting skills cards, I came up with a nice stack of skills I CAN use. Neither the assessment nor the result was very exciting. Then I went to the 2009 Career Management Alliance Conference, where I had the opportunity to go to Richard Knowdell's workshop on _Motivated Skills. After laying out the cards in columns across my desk, I had a short list of skills I CAN use and actually WANT to use. These are the skills that give me motivation to take action. It sounds so simple, yet a light bulb went on in my head. I realized I could develop the skills I like to use. I spent years getting a job without planning a career or thinking about what I really want. It was finally time for a proper job search.
After seeing the simple list of skills I want to use, I decided to spend time mastering those skills. I spent two years writing regularly, publishing articles, and getting feedback for my ideas. The last time I searched for a job I chose a new category--writing/editing. Without a degree in English or communications, I had never investigated jobs for pay as a writer or editor. Many of the job notices gave a preference for an English degree and many required years of paid experience, but I started finding notices for bloggers and people with experience developing a social media presence. When it came time to prepare a resume and letter describing my social media presence, writing, and publishing experience, I dug right in. It was fun to share my experience doing things I love to do.
Career change is the norm, and we oftentimes need to use skills that don't fit our preferences while getting a foot in the door. Once in the door, you can experience new skills, see what you like, then fly with the skills you like to use. Stop the steam roller and soar to new heights of mastery. You won't need to force yourself to go to a job you don't like. As you gain expertise in your motivated skills, you'll anxiously anticipate everyday with new energy. Love your job search!
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Coaching for Career, Writing & Creative Problem-Solving
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