Well, not a single thing, anyway. There are at least three different types of informationals. Each is a different animal, with different strategies to get the most benefit from them.
And benefits they have. For example, it has been estimated that one in 12 informational interviews results in a job, making it the most powerful form of job search networking. It has a much higher success rate than applying to job openings online, where the odds are more like one in 200.
What are these three different types of informational interviews? I’ll call them the Career Exploration Informational, the Company Insider Conversation and the Hiring Manager Meeting.
In this and the next two posts I’ll explore each type individually, and then in the fourth post I’ll share some crucial tips for success that are common to three types.
The Career Exploration Informational Interview
This type of interview focuses on the interviewee’s occupation.
If you’re not sure what kind of job you want to do, it’s time for some research. Read up on various occupations online, then talk to people who are working in an occupation you’re considering. This isn’t just for students any more. With the average person changing careers five to seven times, this kind of informational can help a person of any age get a better sense of whether that new career idea is really a good fit.
The discussion is likely to focus on questions like these:
- Why did you decide to enter this field?
- What is your typical day like?
- On which activities do you spend the largest amount of time?
- Is your job typical of this occupation, or unusual?
- What do you like best about what you do?
- What do you like least?
- What advice do you have for me if I decide to enter this career?
- What other resources should I look into?
That last question is especially important! If your contact recommends a website, publication, training program, organization or – better yet – someone else to talk to, you now have next steps to pursue in your career exploration. Promise to follow up: “Thank you so much! I’ll follow up on your suggestions and let you know how it went.” That way you can continue the relationship with an occasional emailed update, and because you said you would follow up, your contact won’t be surprised. They’ll see you as keeping your promise.
Connecting on LinkedIn can help keep the two of you on each other’s radar screens and provide additional opportunities to interact. (Remember to check Notifications on the menu bar, preferably daily.)
In the best case scenario, an ongoing mentor-mentee relationship may develop.
This type of informational interview may be the easiest to get, especially if you’re a student but even if you aren’t. Having an introduction from a mutual acquaintance always helps – and LinkedIn can be very helpful here – or having something in common, such as being fellow alumni. If there’s no special connection, just ask anyway. You’d be surprised how many people will say yes. It’s flattering to be seen as an expert, and the interview is a chance to “give back” and make a difference for someone.
Crucial tip: It may be easier to get an informational interview if you don’t call it one! The phrase sounds formal, and just too much like working. Instead, call it a “career research conversation”–or just, “a chance to hear your thoughts.”
In the next post, How to Use Info Interviews to Get Hired Faster, we’ll explore a very different animal, the Company Insider Conversation: how to land such meetings, and how to navigate them in a way that’s comfortable for both parties, builds relationships, and paves the way for opportunities.