5 Tips for Getting the Most out of an Informational Interview

Find out if a career switch will really make you happy with an effective informational interview

Credit: Flickr/wenzday01

Looking for different work? Fill up your calendar with informational interviews

A good way to research a potential next career is by conducting informational interviews with people who have the job you think you want

You may be feeling stuck, frustrated or unhappy in the work that you do. You may dream of opening a dogsitting business, training for the law or becoming your own cake boss.

But how, short of going back to school, investing the funds for a start-up venture or actually doing it, can you find out if your pie-in-the-sky idea is actually right for you? Simple. Ask.

The world is full of folks who already do what you want to do. Many of them are busy. Some of them don’t want to talk. But a surprising number, if you call up and explain that you’re researching a career, will take some of their valuable time to tell you what it’s really like.

Five Ways to Get the Most out of Your Informational Interview

  • Be concise. State your business clearly in your intial phone call or e-mail when asking for the person’s time. Be sure to set a time limit for your interview – and stick to it.
  • Have questions ready. You needn’t have a list and fire them off in interrogation fashion. Make it a relaxed conversation, but make sure to cover the main points you’ve jotted beforehand.
  • Let the interviewee shine. Ask what she’d do differently, if she was starting in this line of work now. Invite her to share the most surprising thing she learned about her business. Get her talking about her job’s best moments.
  • Don’t ask for a job. If the head of human resources is speaking to you, it’s tempting to enquire about openings. Don’t. An informational interview is just that – a chance for you to learn about a career or workplace. Don’t violate trust by turning it into a de facto job interview.
  • Thank your interviewee. They took the time to talk. You should return the compliment by sitting down to write a note of thanks (not an e-mail or phone call).

The bonus: You’ll stand out.

Informational interviews can turn into valuable contacts. The next time there’s an opening, your interviewee may think of you.

Alternatively, they may become an informal mentor. Even if that doesn’t happen, you’ve learned valuable inside information – before you’ve invested a dime in training, set foot inside potential premises or started drawing up a business plan.