If you've ever gone on a job interview before, you're no doubt aware that it can be a nerve-wracking, stressful process. Informational interviews, on the other hand, are conversations you might actually look forward to.
An informational interview isn't one that's conducted in the course of applying to a specific job. Rather, it usually involves reaching out to a person in one's field and asking for a meeting to gather details about what it's like to work in that industry.
For example, if you're looking to become a marketing copywriter but don't have much experience in that arena other than the fact that you studied communications in college, you might reach out to someone who has that job title and ask to learn more about what he or she does and what qualifications you'll need to break in. You might also gather details about that person's specific company so that if an opportunity to work there does arise, you'll know what you're potentially getting into.
If you're fortunate enough to schedule an informational interview with someone you've been eager to meet with, you might be iffy on how to approach it. Here are some tips to get you started.
1. Don't treat it like an interview
A job interview generally has a rather formal tone. An informational interview, however, isn't as official, and as such, you should treat it more like a conversation in which you ask questions and focus on building a rapport with the person across the table. In fact, your best bet is to approach that interview as an opportunity to build a relationship with someone who might help your career, whether immediately or in the future.
2. Aim for concrete advice
Ideally, you should come away from your informational interview with knowledge that will help you land the sort of job you're looking for. To that end, be sure to solicit specific suggestions on how you can break into the field you're interested in or advance your career in the manner you're hoping for. Go in prepared with specific questions about the skills you'll need to excel, and figure out whether additional education, be it a master's degree or professional certification, is really necessary if you're contemplating either. And don't hesitate to ask what sort of personality lends itself to success in the field you're exploring. This might give you insight as to whether it's really a good fit.
3. Use it to expand your network
Getting an opportunity to sit down with someone in the field you're interested in is something you certainly won't take for granted. But don't just leave it at that single conversation. Before concluding that interview, tell the person you're meeting with that you're eager to expand your business network, and ask him or her to introduce you to some associates who might similarly be in a position to offer great advice. Along these lines, don't hesitate to ask the person you're talking to for a second meeting a few months down the line. If he or she is busy and hard to nail down, you'll at least get your request on his or her radar.
Informational interviews can be instrumental in establishing or developing your career. Follow these tips, and with any luck, you'll get a lot out of your next one.