Confused about your next career move? Informational interviews can help you get started.
Guest contributor Meenakshi Prabhune
The job search is difficult and intimidating, especially during a career transition. While there are tons of articles and advice on dealing with the much dreaded job interview, they rely on a major assumption: you’ve been called for an interview in the first place! What if you’re still figuring out what jobs you should start applying for? This is where informational interviews come in.
An informational interview involves seeking information from someone who works in an industry or company that you’re thinking of joining. They’re a great way of getting the inside scoop from a line of work, in an informal setting.
The first – and most difficult – step for securing an informational interview is to get in touch with the right people. Find a connection: friends, relatives, friends of friends, relatives of friends, friends of relatives of friends – it doesn’t matter. Alternatively, start cold-calling. Yes, this means reaching out to strangers. Thanks to the death of privacy, you can find relevant people in any company, location, or field of work using social media. Drop them a brief message – LinkedIn is helpful here – introduce yourself, describe your common point of interest, and ask for a meeting or call.
The success rate won’t be 100%, but you just need a few positive responses. Targeting the right people is crucial; you can safely assume that the CEO of a company won’t be up for a coffee and a natter. People in the early stages of their career are more likely to spare the time and effort, and possibly have more empathy, having been in your situation not too long ago. Alumni from your university may harbour a soft spot towards fellow graduates; keep an eye out!
Preparing for the interview
Though you’ll be the one doing the interviewing in this case, unfortunately you’ll still have to prepare! Starting with a vague “tell me about your field” is expecting too much effort from someone who’s volunteered their time.
So, once you fix a meeting with someone, strap on your detective goggles and start investigating. Make a list of directed questions addressing your concerns and curiosities. “Did you need to take a course to join this field?”, “What are the constraints of this particular job?”, “Do you need to travel often?” are some examples of specific questions. This will help your interviewee give you good answers, save both of you from an awkward silence, and, most importantly, ensure that you get all the information you need.
Going one step beyond
Whether the meeting reaffirmed your career choice or proved to be a myth-buster, allow some time before taking any big decisions – you have, after all, only spoken to one person.
There’s still one more thing to do: Ask for more. Contact names, links, events, email addresses, courses; any kind of information. There’s always one more useful tip lurking around, so make sure to dig for it. Finally, do not assume this meeting will lead to an immediate job offer – it’s just a first step. But a first step is how every journey starts.
Meenakshi Prabhune is a researcher-turned-science-writer living and working in the Bay area, California. You can read her blog, that covers science and travel, here.