Informational Interviews: How to Get One. What to Do When You Do
Informational interviews are sit-downs with people in a specific industry or in a specific department or job. Sometimes it’s where you already work. Sometimes it’s not. Do you have your eye on a position? Or are you interested in moving into another area of your industry or even within your company or college? Here are 3 strategies for how to approach an informational interview.
1. Find a person in that field or in that office who is mid-level or higher and invite them out for a cup of coffee. If that’s not possible, get on his/her calendar for a 20-30 minute appointment. Bring them a cup of coffee or a bottled water and pick their brain. Ask pointed questions. Do not waste their time. Share a little bit about yourself but don’t spend too much time talking. You are there to listen to them.
People like to talk about themselves so let them. Start the conversation with questions like this:
- What does a day in the life look like for you?
- What are some of your most successful projects?
- What do you love about the work that you do?
2. Once you get some background, get more specific about how to break into the industry or the field:
- What kind of training do I need?
- Is there a specific trade organization I should join?
- What conferences should I attend?
- Are there any webinars that I can participate in?
- What should I expect in an interview when I get that far?
3. Finally, increase your network by asking your interviewee to introduce you to one or two other people who you can have a similar conversation with?
A couple of pitfalls to try to avoid:
Understand the culture in your work place or industry. If you are having this conversation with someone at your current place of work, be sure that you give your boss a heads up. Higher education for example, can be very hierarchical. You want to be transparent and honest with your supervisor about why you are meeting with his/her colleague or with someone higher on the ladder than your supervisor.
If you are not supported by your supervisor, then try to find ways to get an audience with whomever you want to meet. Get on a committee with them. Have an elevator pitch ready in case you do find yourself in the elevator with that person. I would even say get to know his/her assistant. No you aren’t stalking anyone. You are being strategic and persistent toward your goals.
And if none of that works, find folks in the same industry but at another company. The world is small. The chances that you have a contact at another company or college are high. Attend networking opportunities in your field, join your trade organization and get to it.