You might remember the expression “informational interviewing.” It was popularized decades ago in Richard N Bolles book “What Color is Your Parachute?” A process that doesn’t get much press anymore, this technique can be REALLY helpful in identifying jobs or industries that you might love (or hate!), or how you might get your foot in the door if you lack relevant experience.
Informational Interviewing is not job-interviewing. It’s a process for you to learn about an industry or a specific job title, or a way for you to identify unmet needs and opportunities in fields that you love. Here’s how to get the most out of an informational interview.
One – Find the People to Interview
I realize that seems obvious. But how? First, decide what or who, by job type, you want to speak to. So, for example, you are interested in medicine and you want to speak to a nurse. Contact everyone you know who is a nurse, and contact the rest of your friends and ask them if they know any nurses. Explain that you are interested in finding out more about this as a profession, and that you are asking for fifteen to twenty minutes of their time to answer some questions. If you don’t know anyone and and friends can’t point you to someone, try the yellow pages, or human resource departments of local businesses in that field.
Maybe you just know you love photography. Same thing. If you don’t know any photographers, ask your friends if they do. Then, seek out businesses or companies in that field to find people. For that matter, go to a social media site like Twitter or Facebook and ask for photographers who would be willing to do an informational interview. You’ll be amazed.
Two – Make an Appointment
Set up a specific time, date, and place to conduct the interview. If it’s at their place of business, be sure to ask what hours are the easiest for them to break away for fifteen minutes. If you are meeting outside work, make sure you buy the coffee or lunch. Reassure the person that you are just trying to learn a few things about the field and that you have (give them a number – 7 or 8 at most) questions to ask. Make certain you have their contact number to reach them that day should a problem arise.
Three – Be on Time and Stay on Time
Be there when you said you would, and wrap it up in the time frame you originally asked them to give you. If they are willing to continue, then by all means continue to pick their brains as long as possible.
Four – Get Their Contact Information First
As soon as you introduce yourself and before you begin the questioning, get their contact information including mailing address. Ideally a business card, but if not, write it down at the top of your notes. Name (correctly spelled) phone, email, address. Do this first in case the person is called away or agrees to go over the time limit and then you get interrupted. At the end of the interview, be sure to ask if you may follow up with them as you continue to learn.
Five – Send a Hand-Written Thank You Note
Since this was not a job interview, you should not send a formal typed follow up letter. This should be a courteous, personal “thank you” from you to them for their time and information. This is very much a lost art and it does get you noticed. You never know when this contact may come in handy down the road.
In a separate article, I’ll address actual questions and topics to ask in the interview. For now, be sure to conduct it appropriately and secure the person as a future contact in the business by being professional, courteous, and appreciative.