As a career coach, I strongly advocate informational interviews as a powerful tool for making career decisions. But I often draw a blank gaze when I say this term. Informational interview is the opposite of the traditional interview. Instead of being interviewed, you get to interview somebody already working in the field. It is a great tool for students and young professionals to get more information about the possible career paths they may be evaluating.
Albert Einstein famously said “The important thing is not to stop questioning.” When it comes to careers, you need to focus on the right combination of your skills and interests, and what better way than informational interviews to research careers.
Let’s understand with the help of an example how to approach informational interviews and use this technique smartly. Samarth (name changed) is the son of a friend who is torn between a career in traditional advertising, digital marketing or visual communication design. He is in the first year of a liberal arts degree at a leading university and doesn’t have the faintest clue of what people in these careers do all day.
1. Identify Potential Interviewees
Young professionals entering the workforce can use LinkedIn to identify potential interviewees, besides leveraging their alumni networks. Opt for a mix of people in slightly senior roles and mid to senior roles.
In Samarth’s case, his father reached out to the communication manager of the firm he worked in and asked him for a contact at the firm’s advertising agency. His aunt reached out to her student who was working in a leading design agency as a visual communication designer. Samarth’s brother’s friend was into digital marketing. Samarth’s strategy of reaching out to his family and friends and enlisting them in his search paid off. Teachers are a great resource for identifying potential interviewees.
2. Reach Out to Interviewees
What do you do now that you have some potential people to talk to? The first messaging, preferably a call will have to be from the primary contact of the interviewee checking if s/he is fine with a 30 minute informational interview with the student/young professional. If contacting via LinkedIn, a messaging app or email, then you can send them a message requesting for an informational interview, reference any common connection (e.g. same college) and a few lines about yourself.
Remember: you can’t expect a positive response as a matter of right, and have to work around the interviewee’s schedule. Expand your net if you are not getting a positive response, or want to speak to more people.
Samarth reached out via a messaging app to his potential interviewees, thanking them for consenting to a 30 min call and requesting a suitable date and time for a call. He also gave a short 2 sentence brief about himself. Now he was worried about what to actually ask them. He decided to speak to his parents and me to get some clarity. Our advise is captured in the next few points.
3. Research, make a list of questions & prepare your introduction
Research on 3 aspects: a) the industry, b) the company and c) the person.
Now, make a list of questions and run these past a trusted person like a parent. Your aim is to get an insider’s view on the day to day working and find out how to get hired as an intern or for a full-time position. Some suggested questions are listed alongside.
Practice your introduction before the interview. Talk about your educational background, strengths, achievements and interests. Ensure your introduction is about 30 seconds and does not exceed 1 minute.
4. The Actual Interview & Beyond
Go into the actual interview with a relaxed mindset. A face to face meeting may be difficult in today’s time. A video call would be great, else an audio call. Make sure you have the right set up for the call. Be genuinely interested in the person and offer to help if required. Take notes and feel free to ask follow-up questions. This is your chance to either affirm your career choice or give it a rethink.
This honest effort will ensure you are a few steps ahead of other aspirants, prepare for job interviews, and importantly sell yourself subtly and make a great impression. This will definitely count when asking for an internship or favour.
Samarth has managed to acquire some great contacts through the process of informational interviews. This process has helped him gain confidence and lose his initial shyness and hesitation to approach others. I showed him how to write thank you notes after the interview, and stay connected. The interview can also be the start of a great mentoring relationship. Leave the informational interview with at least one new name to call. Let this be the start of a learning journey and not just a mere tick mark exercise.
Parents often ask me, when should students begin this process? My recommendation is that students can start informational interviews from as early as grade VIII. Given the pressure of stream selection in the Indian context, arming yourself with more insights is the only hedging career strategy, with the added benefits of acquiring self-confidence and networking skills, something which cannot be taught in an academic set-up.
Your 30 minute informational interview is waiting for you. Go grab it.
— The writer is HR Advisor and Career Coach (www.nimtalkingtalent.com)
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