I’m a big fan of informational interviews. I got my foot in the door at my current employer through an informational interview and have made a point of agreeing to meet with almost anyone who asks me to do one.
The point of an informational interview is to learn about a job, company or industry from someone with inside knowledge. Done right, it can provide insight into an organization/role/category you might not otherwise have access to.
I’m sure there are systematic ways to get informational interviews (LinkedIn is probably great for this) but a good place to start is to email your family and friends and ask them to introduce you to someone who works in Industry X or Y. Once you arrange a few informational interviews, get the most out of them by remembering a few things:
Do your research. This is true for any interview (You have no idea how many people are unsuccessful in the interview process simply because they didn’t take the time to learn basic things about the organization they’re applying for) but especially true for an informational interview because the person who has agreed to meet with you doesn’t stand to gain anything from this interaction.
Be flexible. Not everyone has the lucury of being able to meet with you during their work hours. If you want to meet with someone, you should be prepared to meet them for coffee at an odd hour or on the weekend. If you don’t want to meet with someone badly enough to do it at an inconvenient time, you’re probably wasting both of your times.
Ask good questions. Don’t go into this interview expecting the person you’re meeting with to do all the talking. Draw up a list of questions and then ask yourself if the answer to that question will help determine if this job/company/industry is a good fit for me?”. If it won’t, scratch that question from the list and come up with another one that will.
- How did you get into this industry?
- What do you think the best job in this organization is?
- What kinds of people are successful in this role?
- What is the best part of your day-to-day job?
- What is the worst part of your day-to-day job?
- What advice would you give to someone looking to get a foot in the door here?
Network. You’ve had the awesome opportunity to meet with someone who has a job you’d like. What’s the worst thing you can do? Leave that meeting without any further introductions. You should always ask, either at the end of the interview or in your follow-up email, if that person knows anyone else they think you should meet. If you seemed genuinely interested into what they had to say and were respectful of their time, the answer will almost always be “yes”.
Say Thank You. Send a card or an email thanking the person for their time and telling them you really enjoyed meeting with them. Do this even if it’s not true. You never know when you’ll meet that person again.