The Informational Interview

Julie Shenkman
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Not every interview is about getting a job. In fact, one of the most important interviews you can have has nothing to do with working. It has to do with learning. Informational Interviews are about getting a better idea of a career that interests you. They can be a valuable tool in your search for a new career. So how do you arrange an informational interview? And how do you make it work?

Leave the Applications at Home

First and foremost, remember that an informational interview is not about applying for a job. You should decide what industries or careers spark an interest for you, and then track down professionals in each area that could teach you about the ins and outs of the business. Make it clear that you are not looking for employment. Instead, let them know you are interested in speaking with experienced professionals who can give you valuable insight about a specific career or industry that interests you.

Know the Profession and the Professional

Before you get too far ahead of yourself, do your research. Never go into an informational interview without knowing the basics of what you will be discussing or whom you will be meeting. Go online, go to the library, read the newspapers. Visit the company's web site and find out as much as you can about the person you will be meeting. Find out everything you can before the interview. You don't want to waste the time of the person who has given up part of their day to speak with you. If you're interested in accounting, learn the basics of the field before you try to talk with someone else about it. After doing a good amount of research, you will have a more effective interview and think of questions that cover specific things you couldn't learn from a book or a newspaper article. The 30 minutes you have with a professional can be used for a more valuable, in-depth discussion, as opposed to a general review of the profession that you could have found in a textbook.

Key Questions

Doing research also makes it easier to prepare the best questions. Take a list or outline of items with you that you want to learn more about. An informational interview is the perfect time to have a prepared list of topics you want to cover. Think about the future of the industry, the qualifications that employers like to see on a resume or the everyday ins and outs of the profession.

Follow Up and Stay In Touch

Once your informational interview is over, stay in touch with the person who was kind enough to make time for you in their schedule. Send a thank you letter or email, and when you officially begin your job search-especially if it's in their industry-keep them updated on your status. Be sure they have a copy of your resume, either to keep within their company or to pass on to others who may be interested. An interviewer can prove to be an important part of your professional network, and will appreciate your interest and responsibility in planning for the future.

An Important First Step

Informational interviews can make the next step (job interviews) a more successful endeavor. If you have already discussed a career or industry with a number of professionals before you get to a job interview, you will be more comfortable talking about why you have chosen a particular field and why you think you are an excellent candidate. Informational interviews can be a great source of information-and confidence-as you start out on the adventure of entering a new profession.

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