The informational interview: a crucial job search skill

Tracy thinks she might like to own a boutique. Ricco doesn't know whether to be a computer software or hardware engineer. Hang doesn't know whether she should work for a large company or a start-up.

To obtain additional information about occupations and industries, they conducted informational interviews.

Informal meetings are excellent sources of knowledge and can be fun. People enjoy talking about themselves and their jobs.

Informational interviews provide a reality check on what you've read, heard and thought. The person interviewed can offer up-to-date, personal and local information. You can observe the job atmosphere and gain confidence by taking control in interview settings.

Interviews are also a great networking tool. They can uncover a prospective employer's needs and may lead to a position. Interviews enable you to enhance your contact network. You can meet hiring authorities and may be invited back for a job interview.

Seventy-five to eighty percent of available positions are not advertised but filled by the contact network. Hiring managers prefer to fill positions by interviewing candidates referred by people they know rather than reviewing dozens of resumes.

Informational interviews differ from job interviews in that you control the conversation. You know what information you want, ask the questions, and gain meaningful information. Because the focus is on getting information, you feel less pressure.

To find knowledgeable experts to interview, ask friends, neighbours, colleagues, human resources personnel or people representing professional trade, labour or business associations. Contact college advisors, coaches and former employers. Call community service agencies, trade organizations, business and professional associations and chambers of commerce. Look in the yellow pages. Check Dictionary of Occupational Titles DOT for occupational information: Read other library and internet guides. Try to meet with hiring managers.

The most effective way to arrange for interviews is to ask for personal referrals from mutual acquaintances. Letters, phone calls or emails are the next best thing. Follow up your letters and emails with phone calls requesting interviews. Be clear that you're seeking information only, not looking for a job. State how you got your contacts' names and the kind of information requested.

Make friends with receptionists. When you connect with your contacts, indicate the purpose of the meeting. Ask for 15 to 20 minutes of their time. Prepare questions in advance so that the contacts can answer them over the phone if they have no time to meet in person. If the response is negative, ask for referrals to other experts.

Prepare carefully. Don't waste the expert's time. Don't ask for information that's readily available in directories or the Internet.

Here are some points to ask the person. Give a brief description of yourself (to the person you are interviewing). Include: How did you get started in the job? Describe a typical day or week. What do you like most and least about your position? What are your biggest challenges? What skills, personal qualities, experience and education are needed for this work? What are good sources of training?

What are the opportunities for advancement within your organization and the field? What's the salary range? How did you get started with your organization? How does your company compare to similar organizations in the field?

What advice would you give to people starting out? Ask for names of others with whom you might speak and get additional suggestions. Consider taking an updated resume in case they ask for it, but don't offer the resume if it's not requested.

After the meeting, write down your thoughts. Ask yourself: Would this work satisfy me? Do I have or can I attain needed skills? Does the occupation fit my personality, interests, needs, passion and desired lifestyle? Do friends believe I'm suited to this work?

Will the work enable me to achieve my long-range goals? What do I like most and least about it? How would it impact my family? Am I willing and able to invest time and money to get necessary training? What additional information do I need?

Follow up with a thank you note. Reiterate information which you found particularly helpful. Record names, dates, comments and referrals. Ask if you can call for further questions.

Could you benefit from conducting an informational interview? Where can you get needed information?

Why not conduct an interview this week?

Questers Dare to Change Your Job and Your Life, by Dr. Carole Kanchier, provides additional informational interview and job search tips: