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An informational interview is a key element in your strategy to build a network and identify career opportunities. The point of the exercise is not to land a certain job but to gather information. And, of course, it gives you the chance to present yourself. This is important as, with every informational interview you attend, you will expand your network and gain confidence.
What Is the Purpose?
- To talk to people who work in your future profession and benefit from their professional experience and contacts
- To create a better picture of a professional field, its conditions, requirements, and opportunities
- To gain insight into companies and organizations
- To obtain advice and tips on career planning and job hunting
- To build a contact network
- To learn how to better express your own interests and strengths, and to raise your confidence and knowledge for future interviews
Whom Can You Interview?
Anybody who works in a field that interests you. This could be friends and acquaintances, friends of friends, family members, alumni, or even people who you don’t know but whose career path is of interest to you. You will often be received with open arms as most people like talking about themselves.
How Do You Set Up the Interview?
The best thing is first to write an email and then (if you don’t receive an answer after a week) make a phone call to set an appointment for the interview. This will take place ideally in person, or on the phone.
It is important to:
- Make clear immediately that you are gathering information and advice and are not asking for a job.
- Suggest a meeting of not longer than 20 to 30 minutes.
- Not be offended by a lack of interest or a possible rejection.
- Be patient and persistent and not give up.
How Can You Prepare?
- By reading up in advance about the field of work or the company, you will save time and have a more productive discussion. The more interviews you attend, the more specific you can be in your questioning and the more interesting and detailed will be the answers.
- You must know yourself what you want, and where your strengths and weaknesses lie.
- Decide before each meeting what information you want to gain. Compile a list of questions in advance (use the question list below for help).
- Set yourself the target to ask for further contact persons (and sources of information) at the end of the discussion. This will ensure that each meeting leads to new contacts.
- Respect your interview partner's time.
Possible Course of the Interview
- Refer to your mutual acquaintance, i.e. who it was who recommended you to meet, give a brief introduction of yourself, and outline your reason for coming.
- Ask the person to tell you about themselves but avoid being too demanding.
- Ask questions.
- Be sure to end the interview punctually and thank the person for their time and advice, etc.
- How did you get this job? What are your professional qualifications? What was your first job?
- How did you plan your career? Are there other ways that lead to this career/position?
- How would you describe your position/job/responsibilities?
- What do you like about your profession and what not?
- Can you describe a typical day?
- What qualifications/competencies/strengths do you need for this field of work?
- What would you do, if you were me, to achieve my dreams?
- Which next steps would you suggest? Are there any programs for newcomers, trainees, etc.?
- Can you give me the names of any other persons I could contact?
- Can you recommend any literature, journals, or useful websites?
- What is the best career advice you can give me?
- Write an email the same evening thanking the person for their time and advice.
- Keep the person updated and let them know how their advice has helped you.