To find the best employees, companies and organizations conduct time-intensive and costly recruiting activities resulting in numerous interviews with multiple candidates to fill just one vacancy. The interview process, from the employer’s perspective, is to find the best-qualified candidate who has the right match for the job and the company. The job seeker, on the other hand, sees the interview strictly as an invitation that has to be extended by the employer before he or she can step inside the company. What if an individual does not wait to be invited for an interview, but instead, requests an interview? Is this allowed? Yes it is, in the form of what is called an informational interview.
An informational interview is a meeting with a person that one arranges to gain information on a career, a company, its employment opportunities, and any other company items relevant to his or her career exploration. Because the individual is not a job applicant, the informational interview does not require the person to sell himself or herself to an employer. Therefore, an informational interview allows one to circumvent the formal interview process and have valuable face-to-face time with a person who can provide career advice and who could potentially extend a job offer.
Although most job seekers may use an informational interview as a way to audition for an actual job interview by gaining experience and confidence talking about themselves with business professionals, a key objective of the informational interview is to become more informed as to whether or not a company is truly a good fit. Fit can come in the form of location, company size, company culture, opportunities for career advancement, or style of management. Informational interviews can provide insight on these company aspects and help one to decide whether or not to pursue employment opportunities with the company.
Arranging Informational Interviews
How are informational interviews obtained? First, individuals should identify a target list of 5 to 10 companies, which, based on research (size, location, type of business, etc.) seem most interesting. The next step is for individuals to identify persons they want to meet with through informational interviews at any of those target companies.
One can identify people by reading annual reports of target companies or visiting the companies’ Web sites to find a person’s name whose title is closest to the type of career one is interested in discussing. For example, a person who is thinking of a marketing career may want to find the director of marketing, a marketing manager, or a market researcher. Also, individuals should keep in mind the network of people they already know. Friends, fellow students, present or former coworkers, supervisors, or neighbors can be good sources for contacts.
After obtaining the name of a person he or she would like to interview, an individual must decide whether to request the interview by writing a letter or a making a phone call. In either case, an individual should simply introduce himself or herself, indicate the source for the person’s name, and ask whether the person would be available for a brief meeting to discuss his or her occupation. Because individuals seeking informational interviews are not asking for jobs, they should convey a genuine interest in simply learning more about a particular person’s career and the company. Last, individuals should never send resumes when requesting an informational interview via email or regular correspondence, because that signals an intention to change the meeting into a job interview.
Preparing for the Informational Interview
The key to a successful meeting is to have a list of questions prepared in advance to ask the interviewee. Be sure to read about the career area related to the interviewee and develop questions that are specific to the interviewee’s background, experience, and challenges in his or her career. Some sample questions to ask are as follows:
- Tell me what made you decide to enter this career.
- What do you find most rewarding about your work?
- What is the toughest part of your job?
- Where do you see yourself in a few years, such as long-term goals you wish to achieve related to this career or starting a new one?
The types of questions to ask about the company are just as critical. Therefore, it will be necessary to complete some research on the company’s history, its senior management team, its products, and the type of industry it is associated with. Here are some sample questions:
- What trends do you see for this industry that will positively or negatively affect your company?
- How would you describe the company culture?
- Which other companies would you consider your company’s primary competitors, and why?
- Aside from profit increases, how does your company measure success?
Conducting Informational Interviews
Once an informational interview has been scheduled, there are some basic guidelines to follow for conducting the interview. First, interviewers should arrive 10 minutes early and keep the interview within the time frame agreed upon. It is important to not exceed the requested time, as a sign of courtesy and professionalism.
Second, individuals should dress in formal business attire as if the meeting were an actual job interview. The first impression one makes with a prospective employer is very important no matter what the circumstances may be.
Third, individuals should take the initiative with the questions they ask throughout the interview so that they obtain the information they need but also engage the interviewee in a discussion that allows both parties to have a conversational tone. Finally, be sure to observe the working environment and notice any aspects of the workers in terms of the way they dress or how they communicate. Individuals should also take notice of the offices and other facilities of the company that might enhance or detract from their working experience.
On completion of each informational interview, individuals should ask themselves whether they feel more or less enthusiastic about the company. If they like what they learned about the company and believe it could provide a good fit, they should follow up with the interviewee by sending a thank-you card stating their appreciation for his or her time and declaring their interest in being considered for employment opportunities at the company. An individual might visit the company’s Web site once a month and as he or she comes across a job that is appealing should apply for it as instructed but also send a resume and a copy of the job description to the interviewee requesting a referral to the hiring manager of the position.
An individual who is not interested in working for the company but enjoyed speaking with the interviewee should still send a thank-you note and express appreciation for having learned more about the company and the person’s career background.
Informational interviews can be an invaluable tool in a job search campaign. Instead of waiting to apply for jobs that are listed on company Web sites or job boards, individuals can be more proactive and introduce themselves to potential employers through informational interviews. After conducting several informational interviews, individuals will have become more familiar with the hiring process, strengthened their interview skills, and developed positive job-hunting techniques that make them more competitive and effective job seekers.
- Bolles, R. N. and Bolles, M. E. 2005. What Color Is Your Parachute? A Practical Manual For Job Hunters and Career Changers. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.
- The Career Center. 2004. Information Interviews Guide. Tallahassee, FL: Florida State University.
- Fry, R. 2000. 101 Great Answers to the Toughest Interview Questions. Clifton Park, NY: Thomson Delmar Learning.
- Medley, A. 1992. Sweaty Palms: The Neglected Art of Being Interviewed. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.