Testing The Waters: A Guide To Informational Interviews

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Whether you’re a student, a new grad, or a professional considering a change, the summer can be a great time to lay some groundwork for your next career move.

If you’re looking to test the waters in a new industry but aren’t quite ready to dive in headfirst, conducting some informational interviews might be the right step for you. Unlike a standard job interview, an informational interview is typically initiated by the job-seeker, and focuses on the exchange of (you guessed it) information about what it’s like to work in a particular industry rather than applying for an open position. In short, these kinds of meetings are an amazing opportunity for you to take the lead, gain valuable advice, and make connections with industry professionals.

But before you start reaching out to potential subjects, here’s what you need to do to set yourself up for success!

Step One: Select an industry and develop your contact list

To get the most out of your informational interviews, you’ll need to zero in on a career or industry you’re really passionate about. You can approach this in a few different ways. If you have a dream company you want to work with and are interested in exploring a range of different positions, you can contact people a few different departments to help find out where you might fit. If you have an industry in mind but not a particular employer, you can reach out to professionals from a variety of organizations to discover what company culture might be right for you.

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Either way, once you’ve decided on your target industry, it’s time to develop a list of contacts. To do this, you can seek out professionals on LinkedIn, use your school’s alumni network, or even conduct a simple Google search to identify prominent people in your desired field. If you’re on a summer co-op term or internship, you can reach out to your supervisors or professionals in other departments. Cast a wide net for professional contacts, but do so with intention: you should be able to tell each person why you chose them specifically.

Step Two: Schedule your interviews

Once you’ve developed your “wish list” of professional contacts, you can reach out to them by phone or email. Be sure to mention who you are, why you’re contacting them, and make it clear that you’re looking for information, not a job.

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When it comes to scheduling an interview, it’s important to be respectful of the professional’s time and availability; they’re doing you a favour by agreeing to meet with you, and the easier you can make it for them, the better. Keep in mind that this contact could potentially direct you to open positions, or might even be a future reference. As such, you don’t want them to think that you’re demanding or difficult to work with – being accommodating and courteous is key.

Step Three: Prepare

If you’re used to being on the other side of an interview table, it can be intimidating to hold the reins. To calm your nerves and make the most of the meeting, make sure you’ve done your homework. Prepare a list of questions you’d like to ask, and steer clear of anything you could find the answer to online. This is your chance to get a unique perspective on your industry of choice, so get the easily-available background information out of the way on your own time.

Even though you’ll likely be asking most of the questions, be ready to answer a few as well. Have a clear personal statement prepared about why you’re interested in the industry and your future career goals. This exchange of information will turn your interview into more of a dialogue and make the conversation more comfortable for both of you. Lastly, before the meeting, give some thought to what you’ll wear (standard job interview clothing is appropriate) and confirm the interview details with your contact.

Step Four: The Interview

Once you get to your interview, it’s important to be deliberate with the time you have. Allow conversation to flow naturally, but make sure you have a clear idea of the topics you’d like to discuss during your scheduled time. It’s also important to keep the interview informational. Don’t ask about potential employment opportunities; your contact agreed to a certain type of interview. You can, however, ask for referrals to other industry professionals who may be able to give you more information or a different perspective.

Lastly, try to keep things brief and limit your conversation to between 15 and 30 minutes. Your meeting was likely not scheduled to be any longer than this, and you want to be conscious of your interviewer’s timeline. Keep an eye on the clock, and when your time is nearing its end, lead with, “We have about five minutes left, and I want to be mindful of your time…” This courtesy gives the professional an opportunity to wrap things up if they’re on a tight schedule, or to keep the conversation going.

Step Five: Follow Up

Be sure to send a thank-you note to everyone you meet with, and add them to your LinkedIn network. You should also contact any referrals as soon as possible and don’t forget to mention the person who referred you.

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Informational interviews can be a great tool for job seekers, new professionals, students – basically anyone who is on the hunt for a new opportunity! They’re a great way to gain valuable insight into an industry, and expand your professional network at the same time. An up-to-date understanding of your industry is every bit as important as a current resume!

Take a look at more egg-citing career advice on TalentEgg’s Incubator.

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