The “Not an Interview” Interview: Part I – The Preparation

So what is an informational interview, anyway? It is a formal discussion about what it is like to work in a field, or for a particular company, that interests you.  These meetings are often with someone who is working in a position or company that you aspire to join.  Your reasoning for wanting an informational interview can include any of the following

  • To get “inside information” on what it’s really like to work in a particular field or company
  • To gather information on how to find job opportunities in this field
  • To find out what the company values most in its employees – and what additional training or experience, if any, you might need to gain before obtaining your desired position
  • To request names of other professionals in the field with whom you may be able to meet to expand your network.

When requesting an informational interview, it is very important to remain clear on the purpose of what is it you’re trying to accomplish – do not confuse informational interviewing with an actual job interview.  This is the biggest pitfall to informational interviews – and you can often shoot yourself in the foot for when a potential opening does come up!  Your informational interviewer should not feel any pressure to find or offer you a job!

Prior to participating in your informational interview, do your homework and prepare as much as possible. You should know as much as possible about the person you will be meeting with, the company that person works for, as well as the industry that you are hoping to learn more about.  If you are looking for places to research some of these topics an excellent first stop is the use of Library Databases to assist you in researching various companies and industries.  Your GT Hiring Solution Employment Service Advisors and Resource Center Coordinators are all more than happy to help you dive into this type of labour market information.

We cannot state this enough – an informational interview is absolutely NOT a job interview.  That being said, first impressions are everything, so if you do demonstrate an excellent knowledge about the company and the industry, the person you meet with will likely be inclined to hold on to your resume. Insider tip: Take your resume with you and be prepared to hand it over, but do NOT offer it unless you are asked for it. Often when the boundaries of the informational interview are respected, they may lead to a follow-up “real” interview in short time – one of the reasons they are so valuable.

Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Being Prepared

You are running this meeting, you are the lead and need to be prepared. The person you are meeting with will wait to take your lead and answer your questions; therefore, after you have done your homework on the company and the industry, you will then need to develop a list of questions you want to ask during your interview.

Your informational interview should last no more than 20 minutes; carefully think of 5-10 questions to gather the information you are looking for. Some examples might be:

Questions about the job and/or company

  • What is the company culture? What are the company’s core values?
  • What is your company’s mission?
  • Could you describe your position? What are your responsibilities?
  • How did you get into this position?
  • What excites you most about your job?
  • What are some of the more frustrating or difficult parts of your job or this career?
  • What kind of problems do you deal with in your job?
  • I really like doing XYZ. Do you have an opportunity to do this type of work in this career?
  • What skills does a person need in this job? What skills are critical for success?

Questions about the industry

  • I have read that such and such are key issues in this field. Have you found this to be true?
  • I have read there are two key trends influencing the industry. They are (1) and (2). Do you agree? How do you feel about this?
  • Is this career/industry changing? If so, how?

Questions about networking in the industry

  • Which trade magazines do you read, or recommend to someone hoping to gain insight into the field?
  • Which professional organizations do you belong to?

Preparation includes being ready to respond! 

Although you will be running this meeting and the one who is asking the questions, the natural flow of conversation may have the person you are interviewing wanting to ask you some questions as well. Tip: If you’re conducting your Informational Interview well, they likely will. It’s an excellent opportunity to get in front of someone in the field and have them gain interest in you and assess your suitability for the field without discussing a specific job opening or position.

Questions you may be asked during an informational interview

  • How can I help you?
  • Why did you want to see me?
  • Describe your background for me.
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What do you know about this field (industry, position)?
  • Why are you considering this field?
  • What are your career goals?
  • What is your job search plan? What have you done so far?
  • What do you consider to be your strengths/weaknesses?

Practice answers to these and other tough questions that may come up so you can answer them confidently. Remember, you are the driver of this meeting. Always speak positively about yourself and your experience. You’re already taking great initiative by conducting an informational interview and learning more about what you need to do to push your career further.

Describe a definite focus, purpose, and/or goal. People are more able to help you effectively if you have a clear direction.  If you aren’t sure about your career path yet, that is where Work B.C.  can help you gain clarity and work with you in uncovering where your true fit is – and which companies may be worth-while for you to sit down with an information interview!

Feeling like getting some practice with an informational interview, but just a little nervous to sit in front of a potential employer? Consider attending a WorkBC Informational Interview Workshop, or practice an informational interview with your friendly local Resource Center Coordinator today!

Next week: The Actual Interview

Arpita Monahan is the Resource Centre Coordinator at our Saanich WorkBC Centre

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