Informational Interviews: Do They Really Work?

Posted in Career Advice

I first heard about informational interviews several years ago at the Annual Biomedical Research for Minority Students (ABRCMS) at which I was reviewing resumes and offering career advice. I asked the student who mentioned the interviews exactly what they are. And, much to my surprise, I learned that the process involved approaching a “professional” to set up a meeting to discuss possible career paths at a company that a jobseeker was interested in.

At first blush, it sounded like a terrific idea to me. Unfortunately, the concept presupposes that jobseekers have done their homework and identified prospective companies that seem “like a fit” for them.

Second, it also presupposes that job candidates have a clear understanding of the duties and responsibilities of career options available at prospective companies. For example, several years ago many scientists who wanted to get out of the laboratory frequently mentioned business development as a possible alternate career options. In response to the question, I always ask “Do you know what business development professionals do on a daily basis and what skill sets are required to be successful at that job? Not surprisingly, the most frequent response to the questions was no!

Further, while corralling a so-called profession at a meeting or conference to chat about possible career options at his/her company or institution is a possibility, asking the same person to take time out from their busy daily schedules to have the same discussion with you becomes increasingly difficult.

Finally, the notion that most professionals want to help others achieve career success is unrealistic and pretty much not the way things work.

As you may have guessed, I am not a big fan of informational interviews. And, I suspect that most professionals who are asked to participate are not either. Nevertheless, these types of interviews are growing in popularity and apparently are de rigueur. That said, the purpose of this post is help folks who participate in informational interviews to manage expectations. To that end; will an informational interview result in the possibility of getting hired at a particular company—probably not. Will it provide jobseekers with valuable new insights and information about possible career choices? Maybe; if you ask the right questions. Will the interview be worth the time that you took out of your day to participate? Possibly, but you don’t know until you try it.

For those of you who may still be interested in informational interviews, I found an article that provides readers with a step-by-step approach to informational interviews (see below)

Open a Door With an Informational Interview

What is an informational interview? An informational interview is a meeting between you and a professional. The purpose is to help define your career options or research a company where you want to work. It is NOT a job interview. Do not expect anyone to make you an offer.
What is my role? You are the interviewer. Prepare plenty of questions to keep the conversation moving.  Include questions about the occupation or business, but ask about other things too: Do they enjoy their work? How do they spend their day? Open-ended questions are best to avoid yes or no answers. See a list of sample informational interview questions.

How do I set one up?

  1. Find people ask everyone you know for potential contacts in a field, company or job that piques your interest.
  2. Make contact Pick up the phone and make contact. Possible phone script:

“Mrs. Smith, Brad Johnson suggested I speak with you. My name is Steven Olson and I am interested in the ________ field. I could use advice from someone who is in this field. Do you have any time this week when I could meet with you? I know you’re busy, so I only need about 15 minutes of your time. I would really like to learn more about your company and the ________ field from someone like you.”

What else should I remember?

  • If meeting in person, dress and act professionally.
  • Make a good impression. This person may provide additional leads or referrals that could lead to a job.
  • Keep it short. Limit your initial interview to 15 to 30 minutes based on how the conversation is going.
  • Feel free to schedule the interview with someone without hiring power. They often know more about day-to-day activities and have more specific information for you.
  • End the interview with an action plan. Ask the interviewee if you can contact him or her again.
  • Remember to send a thank-you note after your interview!

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!