Master the Informational Interview to Advance Your Job Search

If you’re exploring new industries or career paths, incorporate informational interviews into your job-search strategy. 

In this turbulent market, it seems that many people are reevaluating their careers. Some know exactly they’d like to do: they want to  switch  from Wall Street to Silicon Valley or transition from product marketing to sales – while others aren’t sure of the next step.

Similarly, there are a lot of recent graduates out there looking for their first professional job and having difficulty getting a foot in the door.

If I had one piece of advice to give these groups, it would be this: master the “informational interview.”

What does this mean exactly? It means reaching into your network, finding connections (friends, friends-of-friends, friends-of-your-relatives’-friends … you get the idea) that are in your target field of work, and asking them out for a cup of coffee or a phone chat to pick their brain.

This not only helps you clarify your job goals and eliminate options; it can also help open doors to your next role. Below are five practical tips to help you master the informational interview:

  • Remember: you’r not asking for a job in these meetings. Your goal is to learn more about the industry, finding a job within that line of work (including websites and other resources to use, and common hiring processes), and career options available for someone with your background and skill set.
  • You want to ask each person for their story – what did they want to do when they first graduated, how did they find their first job, how did they end up in their current job, and what do they like or dislike about their work. Don’t feel as though you are pestering this person or begging for anything – most people like to talk about themselves, and many want to offer their ‘pearls of wisdom’ to an earnest job seeker.
  • You’ll naturally end up sharing your experience and interests during this conversation as well. Take this time to explain what you love about this line of work (show your passion!). Your goal is to walk away from each informational interview with a more refined list of career options and resources. Ideally you also want an introduction to another person in the field so you can continue setting up new informational interviews.
  • Don’t be afraid to give back. When you’re in the job hunt, you become immersed in industry news, career resources and job listings. You’ll end up joining new and interesting groups associated with your targeted industry or line of work. You can offer up tidbits of information that may be of interest to the other person. This way, you’re also providing value in the conversation.

As you meet more people, get your personal brand out there, and become more knowledgeable about navigating the job-search process in your chosen field, you’ll become better at identifying and pursuing positions that you’re qualified for. And one of these contacts may remember you when the right opportunity pops up.