Well, most of those I have asked, would say something like “I’ve never heard of it. What is an Informational Interview?” An Informational Interview is a business meeting between two professionals, with the purpose of learning more about an occupation, a specific role, or a company. What makes this interview uniquely useful is the nature of the information you gather. Not only will this be specific to a certain geographic area, but it will also speak to a particular life experience. This type of meeting can be arranged by a third person (by referral) or directly between two professionals: one seeking information and the other willing to help and provide it. The informational interview is usually very short and the purpose of the meeting has to be clearly outlined to your interviewee from the very beginning. For example, if you are an internationally trained engineer, you may want to conduct at least 15 informational interviews with professionals working in the same filed, but in your new country/ location. There are so many things, besides the licensing process, that you may find rather different and your path needs to start with understanding these differences. An Informational Interview helps less experienced professionals, such as new graduates, to have their questions answered by someone who is seasoned and has at least 5 years of experience in a certain position/ filed. This is a exceptional way to exchange ideas and learn directly from the source. How can you schedule such an interview? By all means, there are very strict rules to go about it, especially if you want to succeed. To begin with, you need to conduct extensive research to identify your target organizations/ professionals and learn more about them. Carefully analyze your intentions. You’re mistaken if you think that an informational interview is a job search activity, don’t set yourself for failure. These meetings are meant to help you create a professional network, build relationships, and expand your understanding while shaping your own path success. Therefore, to schedule an appointment, you may contact the selected interviewee by telephone or someone may introduce you. When calling, it is preferable to try a few times before leaving a voice message, especially if you did not have a chance to meet this person before. LinkedIn direct messages or email may be other options for the first contact, but most would prefer a phone call.
What are the steps? You need to know how to introduce yourself (remember that elevator pitch you practiced?) and have outlined a clear way of presenting the purpose of your request. Be flexible and set the time of the meeting around the schedule of the professional you’re going to interview. Make sure to specify that this would be a very short meeting, 15 to 20 minutes, and can be easily done during a coffee break. The preferred location would be at the workplace of the interviewed professional, as this will help you learn even more about the workplace, but if this is not possible, a coffee shop or cafeteria nearby may work as well. Sometimes people agree to be interviewed over the phone and you may conduct your interview this way, but most don’t find it as effective as a face-to-face and I don’t really recommend it, unless you have no other choice.
You’ve been successful in setting up the meeting. What’s next? Research, of course. Based on information about that specific organization you can easily reach, you will need to come up with 12 to 14 questions to be asked during the Informational Interview. To ensure efficiency, have them ready or even print them off. This meeting has to stay short and respect the time frames agreed upon beforehand. Please note that time is a very sensitive matter and you risk to make a poor impression and ruin everything ion case you will not abide by the agreed schedule. The questions you can ask may vary from position specific to organization/ workplace specific, feel free to look at other resources available on this topic or talk to a career advisor if accessible.
What do you gain? You will leave with invaluable information about your targeted occupation and, most likely, about that employer/ organization. How will you organize and use this information it’s totally up to you, but if well organized, your informational interviews will help you tremendously in the long run: at a certain point in the future you may interview with that organization and, as a job candidate, you will have inside information and the advantage of knowing firsthand what other candidates may not know. Moreover, you will be able to keep in touch with people in your field and expand your connections. Keep in mind that building trust takes time, created relationships will not become your trusted network overnight. Set realistic long-term goals and follow your strategic career development plan step by step. My grandma use to say – big things don’t happen overnight, there is always an incubation time, so be patient.
Why bother? You’d ask me now why spend so much time and energy planning and conducting these informational interviews? And you are right, they do take lots of time. Yet this is easy to explain, as we all know that good things don’t come easy. I also have a great quote that speaks for all it’s been already said: If I had 8 hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend 6 sharpening the axe (Abraham Lincoln). If it happens you are new to B.C., trying to find a position that matches your personality and skills, consider that this may take lots of preparation.