Correctly done, informational interviews can give you valuable information to use in your next job search and leave a good impression on your interviewee. This turnabout on the traditional interview process has you, the student and/or job seeker, posing questions to someone on the corporate ladder in your chosen field to gather information.
What is an Informational Interview?
It’s not a request for a job, however, and asking for one is tacky. You are simply trying to find out what it’s like to work in the industry or for that particular company. It’s also a clever way to get your foot in the door should there be an opening in the future, so make the best possible impression while you have the chance.
An informational interview is less stressful than a regular interview. It’s a good opportunity to build self-confidence and improve your face-to-face skills. You can ask questions that are normally not discussed at an initial interview, such those regarding pay scale, vacation benefits and other perks.
There’s no limit on how many informational interviews you can conduct, but keep it to one per company. You may want to start with a list of five to seven potential interviewees, chosen for their job position, where they work and perhaps even their gender or where they went to school.
If you’re a woman, you might want to interview only other women to get an idea of how they fare from company to company within an industry. Or you may choose to connect with alumni to improve your chances of getting a job with them in the future.
Perhaps you have your heart set on a particular job classification, or you want to get a feel for what it’s like to work in several related occupations. Maybe you’re curious what it’s like to work in a large company with a record of disability employment. Set your goals and tailor your list of targets accordingly.
Asking for the Informational Interview
Request an interview with a specific person either by phone or email. Pronounce their name correctly (if you go through a receptionist or secretary, ask them to please repeat it for you) or spell it right. You are making a contact, and you want to act like someone they’d like to hire.
Ask for 15 or 20 minutes of their time and state why you’d like the interview. It’s alright to lead off with, “We both went to OSU” or “Jim Smith, a colleague of yours, suggested I contact you.” If you’re emailing, you can include a couple of the questions you’d like to ask to put your interviewee at ease and give them a sense of what will be expected.
Conducting an Informational Interview
The day of the interview, try to dress at the same level of formality (or informality!) of your interviewee. Arrive five or 10 minutes early and be courteous to everyone you meet. Know the name (correctly pronounced) and title of the person you’re meeting.
This is not a job interview, so there’s no need to fret over disclosure. It’s your call. Certainly, you can ask about disability employment support or disability job opportunities within the company.
Taking a few notes during the interview is fine, but never tape record the conversation. You should have a list of prepared questions (link to list), either memorized or written. You may feel nervous. Don’t forget to listen to the responses! Your interview might take a whole different turn based on how your first question gets answered.
If your interviewee shows any sign of ending the interview, such as standing up or telling you it’s been a pleasure, thank them kindly and leave whether or not you feel done. If they’ve been particularly generous and the informational interview has run 25 or 30 minutes, wrap it up and thank them sincerely for their time.
Finally, it is still classy and smart to write them a short, personal thank you within three days. Do not succumb to the temptation to write this via email. You are trying to make the best possible impression, and your handwritten message will only enhance your professional image.