As a career changer, I can say that I owe much of my career transition success to informational interviewing. An informational interview is a meeting in which a job seeker asks for career and industry advice rather than employment.
The job seeker uses the interview to gather information on the field and to find employment leads and expand their professional network. This differs from a job interview, because the job seeker asks the questions.
I cannot over-emphasize the importance of informational interviewing. As you talk to people who are doing jobs that you are interested in, you get to do a reality check in a way that is low-risk and low-profile. You have nothing to lose but much to gain.
Informational interviews are initiated by you, the job seeker. There are many avenues the job seeker may pursue to obtain the informational interview. Social networking, newspaper want ads, job boards, placement services, company websites, trade association and professional meetings, human resource contacts, professors and teachers, job search engines, professional recruiters, friends and family are all means to landing an appointment.
If you have not done it before, informational interviewing can be intimidating. Start small and ramp up until you have enough confidence to call a key decision maker. Before you begin, practice asking questions. Here are some tips to ensure that your interviews go smoothly:
Before you make the first call, write a script or practice what you will ask or say. You can say something like, “I am exploring career goals and would like to learn more about your job. Would be willing to meet with me?”
Give some thought to what you will ask before you arrive at the interview. Make sure that you get the information that you need. You want to know whether or not this job will fit your values, skills and interests. Also, ask other questions that come to mind.
If you feel comfortable doing so, ask the person if you can use them as a contact and if they can suggest others. Be bold! You do not want to miss out on an opportunity.
Treat every person you interview as a potential job lead, and take the encounter seriously. Remember, even though you are asking the questions, you are still being assessed by the contact. Their experience with you will directly determine whether or not they refer you to another lead.
A word of caution: Do not let the lack of a résumé deter you from informational interviewing. In the long run, the contacts you make will be far more important in accomplishing your career goals.
Tammy McIntyre is owner of McIntyre Employment Service, an agency providing individuals and small businesses with career development services. She welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.