Career Exploration – Informational Interviews
Thinking about what your first professional job might be? One of the challenges for students is that you often don’t know what a job title or field of work is ACTUALLY like, let alone whether you’ll enjoy it. One of the best ways to find out more about your potential first role is to chat to people who are already doing it. This article has some suggestions for students, soon to be graduates, or anyone considering a career switch, to undertake an “informational interview” with someone already working in your future role. This content was adapted from the MIT Career Development Handbook – it’s been adjusted to suit the NZ career environment, and the local tech industry.
What is an Informational Interview?
An informational interview is a low-pressure way to gather career information from people who are already working in occupations, organisations, or geographic locations you are interested in. Both the content of the information, and the process of gathering it will help you to refine your career goals, your job search strategy, your target profession or organisation, and possibly discover new ones.
Who do I talk to?
Find people working in careers you want to know more about. Start by asking people you already know.
- Family, friends, neighbours, lecturers, or past colleagues may work (or have previously worked) in the career you want to explore. If they’re not currently in that profession, ask them for introductions to people who are.
- Local meetup groups, LinkedIn, and professional associations are other places to find people who are working in your field of interest.
How do I approach them?
You can request to set up meeting by email, in person, via social networking sites like LinkedIn, or on the phone.
- Introduce yourself and explain how you got their name.
- Tell them you are researching the ________ industry/role/organisation and seeking advice (remember, the purpose of informational interviewing is not to ask for a job or internship).
- If you’re at a meetup or industry event, you could ask if they have time *now* for a quick chat about their role/career.
- If not, you could ask for a time in the future (this will give you a chance to research & prepare some questions). Request a 20-30 minute meeting at or near their office if possible. Meeting at a local coffee shop, or via phone or skype are good alternatives.
- Be clear, concise, and courteous in your communication.
How do I prepare?
Now it’s time to prepare for your meeting just as you would for an actual job interview.
- Conduct preliminary research on the organisation, role & person you’re meeting. Knowing some specifics about the occupation and the company will help you to create targeted questions, and show your enthusiasm and professionalism.
- Develop and bring a list of open-ended questions that will help you evaluate if the role is a fit for you.
- It’s important to clarify your objectives before the meeting to determine what information you are seeking. Your goals will change along a continuum from general career research to specific job research advice.
Suggested questions for informational interviews
- What are your major job responsibilities?
- Can you describe a typical work day or work week.
- What aspects of your job do you enjoy most/least?
- How is your time divided between working with people, data, and things?
- How did you get into this field?
- What are the typical entry-level jobs in this field?
- What are some possible career paths?
- How do most people enter this field?
- How would you describe your work environment?
- How much flexibility do you have in your role?
- How much autonomy do you have
- How much work do you take home?
- How many hours do you work each week?
- Are there opportunities to move into different roles, or different parts of New Zealand, or overseas?
- What are your biggest challenges or problems you have encountered?
- What are the challenges and opportunities facing your industry today?
- Who do you consider to be the leaders in this industry?
- How do you view the current state of the industry?
- What changes do you see occurring in this field?
- Will the type and number of jobs change significantly over the next 10 years?
- What do you wish you had known before you entered this field?
- What is the best advice you were given when entering the field?
- What are the minimum qualifications a person needs to enter this field?
- Are there any professional groups or informal meetups in the field that you recommend I join?
- What conferences or industry events do you attend?
- Where can I find job descriptions and other specifications for some of the positions in this field?
- Do you have any suggestions on my job search strategy?
- What is the size and structure of your organisation?
- What geographic locations do you have offices?
- How does the work of your group/division/office fit into the work of the overall organisation?
- What is the average length of time employees stay work there?
- What type of on the job training is provided?
- Are there any questions I should have asked but did not?
- Do you mind if I stay in touch with you regarding my career search? Can we connect on LinkedIn?
- Is there anyone else in the field you think I should talk to?
Time to meet!
Informational Interviews are more casual than job interviews, but you should still make a positive professional impression. On the day of the meeting:
- Arrive early, especially if you are meeting in a public place such as a coffee shop. This will ensure you are able to find a place to sit.
- Offer to buy them a cuppa – this was your idea, so it’s courteous to shout them a drink of their choosing. You should have one too!
- You are leading the meeting. Start by thanking them for their time. Ask your questions, listen, and take notes!
- Monitor the time and end the meeting within the specified time.
- Thank them for their time. At the end of the meeting, you could ask if they would mind connecting with you on LinkedIn – this is a great way to build your professional network.
Process what you learned
Take a moment to reflect:
- What did you find out?
- What impressions do you now have about this area of work?
- Did you discover any new information about the occupation?
- How does this information help you to clarify your own career objectives? Did you discover another occupation you might want to learn about?
- What are your next steps? Who else do you plan to talk to? (Beware of relying too heavily on the views or advice of only one or two people, and it’s good to speak to people from a number of different organisations if possible).
- Remember to show gratitude after the interview by sending a thank you email or note within 24 hours!
- Keep a record of the people you have spoken to, the dates of your meetings, what was discussed, and names of additional contacts.
- The people you meet are potential members of your professional network. The New Zealand tech industry is a small place, so there’s a good chance your paths will cross again soon! Remember, jobs are attached to people, and if it’s not your first job it could be your next job that this person connects you to.