As a career coach, I’ve seen firsthand how often job seekers lack clarity as they go about looking for their next job. It could be they don’t know what they want to do, they’re unclear if their current career path is sustainable long-term, or they’re unsure if a target company has the ideal culture they’re looking for. This can lead to a lot of anxiety and stress, leaving many people to apply to jobs in mass quantities and hope for the best.
I steer my clients away from this haphazard approach and recommend a more targeted, intentional strategy when it comes to the job search. By doing more purposeful work upfront (as noted in this post), you’re more likely to find a role that’s a good fit for you long-term. One of the ways to ensure this is through the informational interview.
Informational interviews are informal conversations between you and someone who works in an area of interest to you. It’s a chance for you to learn about someone’s career journey, their experience, and any advice they can share. It’s not a job interview! Think of it more as an opportunity for you to do research and collect information about a job, career field, industry, or company.
There’s so much potential of career growth when you use the power of informational interviews. Find out why you need to take advantage of them below.
Gain Career Clarity
Unlike a job interview, an informational interview isn’t focused solely on pitching your skills, experience and value. Instead, the informational interview acts as a learning tool for you to seek answers to questions you have about an industry, company, or role. Through a conversation, you can uncover what a person’s job is like, what they do, how they got into their role, what responsibilities they have, and what it’s like to work at their company. Here are some questions you can ask during the conversation. In the process you may:
- Discover jobs or careers you didn’t know existed or seemed possible
- Learn about the realities of working in a particular occupation or industry
- Get clear in your career goals and how to achieve them
- Find different ways to prepare or upskill for a target role or company
- Uncover tips of how to position yourself and strengthen your application
The more conversations you have with people of interest to you, the more clarity you will gain. This will ultimately help you to be more targeted in your job search.
Expand Your Network
While informational interviews serve a purpose of helping you gain information, at their core they are about building relationships. A big part of a successful job search is about who you know. With 85% of jobs filled through networking, informational interviews can help you meet the right people. The connections you make may know about jobs that aren’t posted yet or can make valuable introductions. One simple conversation can turn into a quality career connection. That quality career connection can open doors to additional people to speak with. Through the informational interview, you are expanding your network in an organic, intentional way.
Build Your Brand
As you expand your network, you’re simultaneously cultivating your brand and what you want to be known for. One way to do this is by crafting and sharing your elevator pitch at the beginning of your discussion. Your elevator pitch could include:
- A brief history of your career journey and lessons learned
- What you’re passionate about and interested in
- What career trajectory you are aiming for in the future
- An explanation as to why you wanted to speak with that person
Don’t be afraid to show your personality! It will be your authenticity and your brand that will leave a lasting impression on the person you’re speaking with. Make sure to also connect with the person on LinkedIn afterward so your brand can stay top of mind (this applies if you are posting/engaging on LinkedIn). Again, the more people you reach out to and speak to, the more visible you will become, thus your brand will become more known! Looking for ways to establish your personal brand in the workplace? Check out this post.
Prepare for Actual Interviews
Informational interviews take the pressure off because you are the one in control! They are great precursors to actual interviews as they allow you the chance to practice how you show up and present yourself. You’re able to test out and refine your elevator pitch with each conversation you have. Also, preparing intentional questions and an agenda ahead of time can get you in the mindset of a job interview. And, with each informational interview you have, the more opportunities you have to build your self-confidence and improve your ability to handle a job interview when the time comes!
(Potentially) Get an “In”
When you’re intentional in your job search and voice your career aspirations, sometimes those informal chats can organically lead to actual interviews. Or, even if a role isn’t available right away, there could be a chance you’re put on the shortlist for future opportunities and considered for roles before they’re even posted. Win, win! That’s why it’s so important to put yourself out there and start talking to others, no matter where you are in your career. It can take months to find a new job so when you start to get the itch to look for something new, that’s the time to begin your outreach and start requesting informational interviews.
Informational interviews are a simple but impactful way to do research, build relationships, cultivate your brand, prepare you, and potentially get you a job. If you’re not already taking advantage of informational interviews, what are you waiting for?!
Kelly Nash is a Chicago-based writer, career coach, speaker and founder of Lipstick & Ink®. She also works full-time in technology as a Role Strategy and Employee Engagement Manager at Salesforce and has over 12 years of digital marketing experience. Kelly has been featured in Thrive Global, Chicago Tribune, International Association of Women, General Assembly, Salesforce, and SheFactor. She’s fueled by black coffee, sunshine, a good ink pen, and a bold lip.