Monday, November 1, 2010

The Informational Interview

Whether you are trying to declare a major, or looking for a job or internship, informational interviewing is one of the most valuable sources of occupational information and a great way to network.

What is an informational interview?
An informational interview is when you sit down with a professional in a field of interest, and ask questions and converse with him/her in order to gain insight and a better understanding of their profession. Not only can informational interviewing give you the inside scoop to a certain career, but it is also a great way to gain advice straight from someone who has been where you are today.

So, you may be thinking, “Yes this sounds great, but how do I find professional contacts in (insert field/occupation)?”

A great starting point is talking to your friends, and family members and anyone else they may know. I highly recommend using the professional networking site http://www.LinkedIn.com. It is not only a great resource for networking, but also a great source for finding professionals in your field of interest. Your first step is to establish a profile, which is basically your resume. Then start making connections- join groups, and build your network.

There are many useful areas on LinkedIn. Someone who is trying to find contacts will find the people search option the most useful. This option allows you to type in a key word or phrase, and the search engine will establish a list of people who have the key word in their profile. You can check out their profile, and send the person a message through the site explaining who you are and the reason for contacting them. Whether it’s a place you are interested in working, or a professional from your career field of interest, LinkedIn is great way to find and connect with professionals.

You have some people you’d like to contact. What do you say? For example message templates, see our networking and/or LinkedIn handouts in our online library at http://www.mu.edu/csc.

Here are some additional tips for when you have a meeting set up with someone:

The Do’s of Informational Interviewing:
• Know the name of the person you will be meeting, along with their title/position
• Wear business attire. You don’t need to wear a suit, but business casual is most appropriate.
• Arrive on time! Being prompt shows respect to the person and that you appreciate and value the time they take to meet with you.
• During the Interview, use this time to learn as much as you can. Don’t be shy to ask questions.

Some sample questions include:
1. In your current position, what do you do in a typical day?
2. What are the most/least interesting aspects of your job?
3. What are the jobs you had which led to this one?
4. What is the top position you can expect to have in this career field?
5. How long does it take to move up in this field?
6. Are there any other related fields where people may transfer?
7. Are there any specific courses someone may benefit from in this field?
8. What are the educational/training requirements of your position?
9. What are the salary ranges for the various levels in the field?
10. What is the job outlook for this field?
11. What advice do you have to offer to obtain a position that will start me in this field?

After the Interview

Jot down notes. Write down a summary of as many key points from the interview that you can, so you have notes to refer back to. You can always keep notes during the interview, but try not to let this break the flow of the conversation. Your notes will help you remember any important information.

Follow up with a thank you. Always thank the person for their time in person and through a thank you note. You can send one online, or a hand written one for a more personal touch. Remember to maintain the relationship after the interview. These are the kinds of contacts who may serve to be valuable to you when it comes time for the job search.

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