As I wrote in a previous post, this past summer I was an intern at the Department of State in the Office of the Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary. In addition to experiencing the State Department work culture I attended invaluable career development workshops. I’ve summarized here the information I obtained on Informational Interviewing, a skill I used extensively to build my network while in DC.
We have all heard that networking is the key to getting a job, so we attend conferences, career fairs, and join relevant professional societies. However one type of networking students may be less aware of is informational interviewing. This is when you meet with “connected” or “knowledgeable” professionals in your career field of interest. The purpose of these meetings is not to obtain a job offer but instead to gather information, advice, referrals, and support. These interviews are different from a job interview in that you take the initiative in conducting the interview by asking the questions.
These meetings allow you the opportunity to gather valuable information about potential career fields, companies, schools or organizations that you may want to work for in the future. It lets you discover and explore previously unknown areas in your field and potential job leads. It may expose you to important issues in your field of interest and also allows you to enlarge your network of contacts, by building on referrals.
When arranging for an informational interview briefly introduce yourself and explain why you want to meet them. Let them know what type of information you are interested in and clarify that you are not looking for a job. If you were referred by someone else make sure to mention that person’s name. Make sure to acknowledge the value of the other person’s time so ask for only 20-30 minutes of their time. If you are going to initiate contact over the phone have a script ready so that you cover all these aspects without having to think about what to say. If you prefer contact by email, you should include what you are currently doing, a brief background on yourself, your referral or connection, and what you are looking for from that person.
In preparing for the interview learn as much as you can about the organization and the individual with whom you will meet. Make sure to prepare and write down the questions that you will ask. Develop priorities for the interview so that you get the most important information from the contact that you can. Some example questions are:
– How did you get into this line of work?
– What has been your career path?
– What skills do you need to be successful in the job/field/organization?
– What associations and professional membership organizations do you find most useful?
– Whom else should I talk with and may I use your name when I contact him/her?
When conducting the interview make sure to arrive on time and restate the purpose of your meeting. Focus on getting answers to your most important questions and don’t forget to ask for advice, information and referrals. Make sure to stick to the time frame that you asked for originally and do not offer a resume unless asked. Thank the individual and ask if you may keep in touch, typically by connecting on LinkedIn. Within 24 hours you should follow up with a thank you note. You can then periodically keep in touch.
Informational interviewing can help you to make better, more informed career decisions, and be more knowledgeable about positions or organizations of interest. It also gives you experience and self-confidence in discussing your career interests for job interviews. This is also an invaluable way to make you visible and connected to the job market. Additionally, potential contacts are much more likely to take time out of their busy schedule to meet and help you if you are a student. Informational interviewing is the method by which 70% of people get their next job offer and allows you to develop your networking skills even when not looking for a job.