The informational interview is a low-key, informal experience that can be your most valuable tool when making decisions about your career. You can accomplish several things when you go out on informational interviews:
Start with lists of people you already know: friends, fellow students, present or former co-workers, supervisors, neighbors, etc. Professional organizations, the yellow pages, organizational directories are also good resources. To find a working professional, go to your college career center or alumni office and ask for a list of people who are working in the field that interests you.
Your first step is to identify one or more occupations you would like to investigate. Assess your own interests, abilities, values, and skills, and evaluate labor conditions and trends to identify the best fields to research. This can be done by using library resources, Oregon Labor Information System - OLMIS, Chamber of Commerce, US Dept of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook, O*Net, Oregon Blue Book, State of Oregon Telephone Directory, or even by word-of-mouth.
For an informational interview to be truly effective, you can't just go into it blindly. Do some research about the company before the interview. A number of great resources are available for company research through company websites, annual reports, and other company literature. You can also use library resource material, Oregon Labor Information System - OLMIS, Chamber of Commerce, O*Net, Oregon Blue Book, State of Oregon Telephone Directory, college career centers, or even by word-of-mouth.
Your initial contact should be made by telephone or letter. Try to schedule your interviews with managers and supervisors who have the authority to hire. Identify yourself and explain that you are researching careers in their field. Always remember to be flexible in your scheduling; employers have prior commitments!
Although there are many techniques to conducting the informational interview, the following is a good approach to use in person or by telephone:
"Hello, my name is ________________. I am conducting career research in this field (name the field). I would like to meet and talk with you for about 20-30 minutes so that I can find out more about your field of expertise."
Emphasize that you are simply trying to get "first-hand" information and whatever they can share with you would be appreciated.
An introductory letter written much like a cover letter without the job pitch is a great way to get your name out there. Make sure to follow up the letter with a phone call to set up the informational interview. Never expect the person to phone you. Proofread all correspondence and save copies.
The day before the interview, call to confirm your appointment with the contact person. If you have questions regarding the location of the contact's office, this is the time to ask. Plan to arrive 10 minutes early for your interview.
Dress as you would for a regular job interview. Because 90% of all jobs are never advertised you will uncover job openings that never make it to the paper. Be ready to make a good impression!
Before the interview, prepare a list of questions that you would like to have answered. Ask only those questions which are appropriate and most important to you. You will convey your motivation and interest to the employer by acknowledging that you have put some thought into your question.
To help "get your foot in the door," it will be helpful for you to have" brainstormed" some short, concise, informative answers to the following:
Be sure to introduce yourself, thank your contact for his or her willingness to meet with you, and emphasize that you are there to gather information about his or her career field. Use an informal dialogue during the interview. Change the questions to reflect who you are talking with - employee or supervisor.
Share some things about yourself… but do not dominate the interview by talking about yourself! Remember you are there to obtain information that will help you learn about careers so that you can be adequately prepared to compete for job openings. Be aware, however, that many informational interviews have turned into actual employment interviews.
Carry a small notebook and a pen. Be polite and professional. Refer to your list of prepared questions. Stay on track but allow for spontaneous discussion. Pretend you are a reporter. You don't need to write down everything, but there will be names, phone numbers or other information that you will want to remember. Be direct and concise with your questions, and answers, and make good eye contact. Ask what specific characteristics or qualification they seek in employees.
Take a copy of your resumé along with you. Try to find out about specific characteristics or qualifications that employers seek when hiring. You may ask the resource person if they would consider reviewing your resumé.
Ask questions about the job and the employer, but never ask for a job. The information you receive will "set you apart" from others who are asking for jobs and being told "no." You should approach potential employers with the attitude that you are seeking career advice.
People who are in the same kind of business usually know their competition. Ask if they would give the names of others to talk to in their field, and if you may say that they referred you. "Referrals open doors".
You have taken the first important step in developing your career search strategy by sharing information about yourself, and talking with an individual who is employed in a career you are interested in.
Keep a list of all the people you have interviewed or plan to interview. Immediately following the interview, record the information you gathered. Include the main things that you gained from each interview. Ask yourself the following questions:
After your initial interview ask if you can stay in contact. You have spent 20-30 minutes with this person, asking questions, getting advice and sharing a little about yourself. This is the first step in developing your contact "network".
Most of your contacts will feel good about you staying in contact with them. They may not have a job for you, but they may know other agencies or people to which you may be referred. Ask for your contact's business card and exchange one of your own if you have one.
Be sure to send a Thank You card or letter within 24 hours of the interview. Thank You notes or letters are an effective way to keep in touch, and a good way to remind people of who you are. Include your address and phone number under your signature.
By building trust with someone in your field of interest, you have begun to develop a network of potential employers.
Although you are not asking for a job, these individuals are now aware of your interests. Remember, most of us are easily discouraged, but by establishing a network of contacts your chances of employment greatly increase.