The Importance of the Information Interview & How to Ace it

As a fourth year student planning to graduate this April, a few questions are constantly lingering in my mind: What will I do after graduation? How will I gain employment? What will set me apart from other applicants?

With over 300,000 university students graduating every year, the job market is an intimidating one to enter. Jobs are scarce and many graduates do not find jobs in their field. There is an increasing value in research and networking within the job market, since most professionals are finding work through their connections. But as it turns out- the most valuable tool – one that offers job seekers both networking opportunities and occupational information- is the information interview.

What is an information interview and why is it important?

An information interview is a meeting that you coordinate and ask working professionals in your field of interest questions. It is important to note that an information interview is not a job interview; rather, it can help you develop your personal contacts and learn of job leads. In this instance you are the interviewer and they are the interviewee. It is an excellent way to gather insider information related to careers and work environments of interest. Information interviews will give you the awareness you need when choosing or refining a career path.

Since a work-study colleague was very successful in his experiences with the information interview, I decided to give them a try. So far, I have had two information interviews and already have seen the benefits: I received a job offer at one and gained additional network connections at another. When I began to seek information interviews, I did not know how start. To help fast-track you through that, I have listed some tips and tricks that may help you in your summer job searches and potential post-graduate career searches using information interviews.

  1. Landing the Information Interview

Do your research. Begin by gathering information on organizations and businesses that you are interested in. Contact someone (in a managerial, or human resource role) and ask them if they are willing to chat with you about their experience in the field. It is essential to specify the purpose of the meeting, describe yourself and your career objectives.  Outline why you would value an information interview and what you hope to gain from such an opportunity. One can reach out through cold calling, emailing or online social networking like LinkedIn (Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus may be to casual for these kind of connections).

From my experience, I found it easiest to first reach out to people in my network. I gained referrals by colleagues, and was also able to ask some preliminary questions about the interviewees. By asking my colleagues preliminary questions on possible interviewees, I was able to begin to formulate educated questions for the interview. Although a bit nerve-wracking at first, I also sought out professionals outside of my network. It is the perfect way to demonstrate your confidence and initiative to the company .

Tip: The keys to success when using any of these communication tools is courtesy, interest, and appreciation.

  1. Scheduling the interview

When scheduling, be sure to offer multiple possible times and dates that you are available, to offer flexibility for the interviewee. It is important to make an allotted time length for the meeting (twenty minutes to an hour is standard).

Compared to a traditional interview, the information interview can be more informal. You can meet the interviewee at a coffee shop, their office, or even over lunch.  Have a place in mind that is conveniently located for the interviewee and yourself. If the interviewee has a busy schedule, it may be the most convenient for them if you to go to their office.

Tip: Call the day before to confirm your meeting time.

  1. Preparing for the Interview

Once you have scheduled your information interview, do additional research on the organization or business. Find out what the interviewee’s tasks and responsibilities are, so you are aware of their experiences. Based on your research, prepare questions for the interviewee. While this is an excellent way to demonstrate the knowledge you already have on the organization or business, it also shows your interest and curiosity. Your preparation is key. The more prepared you are, the more confident you will be. This is your chance to make a great first impression.

Sample Questions:

– How do you spend your time on a daily basis?

– What do you find most rewarding about your position/company?

– What experiences/education have you had that led you to this point in your career?

– What goals do you have for your position?

– What are some opportunities for growth in this area?

Tip: Be direct and concise with your questions.

  1. Dress to Impress

Although an information interview may be informal, it is still a professional setting. Be sure to wear professional attire that you are comfortable and confident in.

Tip: You cannot go wrong with dress pants and a button up, or a knee length skirt or dress and blouse with a cardigan or blazer.

  1. Arrive Early

Like any interview, it is important to demonstrate skills that would make you a great candidate for employment. Arriving early is one of them. Ten to fifteen minutes early shows that you are prepared and timely.

  1. The Interview

The nitty gritty etiquette: when introducing yourself, shake their hand, wait to be seated until they have sat down, and make small talk.  Remember to smile and let your personality shine.

When introducing yourself, tell the interviewee a bit about your background and why you are interested in their company or field. Once you have introduced yourself and set the stage for your question period, you may begin!

I suggest starting off broadly by asking them about their experience in the field, the company and their position there. While the more casual nature of the information interview allows for more free-flowing conversation, it is important to take notes and stay on topic. Have some follow-up questions prepared for certain leading questions to delve into a particular area you are interested in; these will help steer the conversation. This can also be done by phrasing some of your questions to show your enthusiasm for a certain sector of the company. Respect the time limit agreed upon. Thank the interviewee for their time (remember this may or may not benefit them so be sure to be as appreciative as possible).

Tip: Be positive and enthusiastic.

Tip: Do not mix informational interviewing with job seeking.  Although an information interview may help to find out about potential jobs, remember that you are there to gain insight into the field and company.

  1. After the Interview

Send a thank-you email at least 24 hours after your meeting. If you discover a job that you do want to apply for during the interview, the thank-you email is a great place to tell the interviewee that you are interested in a certain position and that you would like to formally apply for it. They may also put you in contact with others in their field or company. If so, be sure to contact them shortly after your thank-you email has been sent.

Once you have an information interview, the interviewee becomes a part of your network. If the interview goes well, there is a possibility of another interview, or more casual meeting. Additionally, there is a chance of developing a long-term relationship with the interviewee. You can potentially gain a mentor to guide you through your career goals, an asset many people don’t have.

Information interviews can be intimidating, but are a great way to network, gain insider knowledge into fields of interest, and possibly gain lifetime friends and mentors. I hope these tips and trick can help you in your job and career searches!

 

Photo Credit: Justin Labelle

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