Get the most out of informational interviews if you are ready to level up in your career.
Career Switching: Use Informational Interviews to Lead the Way
Jul 19, 2022
by Nichole M. Palmer
According to a recent poll, about 52 percent of American workers are considering a career change this year, while another 44 percent have already planned to make the switch. If you feel the itch to leave your place of employment, do it. However, be strategic and utilize informational interviews.
According to various career sites, the informational interview is commonly used as an informal 20- to 30-minute conversation had with people working in your area of interest. What makes this so effective is that you pick the people to interview. Unlike a job interview, the pressure is off. This conversation is purely about the interviewee. Use the time to explore their background, experiences, and even seek their advice.
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Admittedly, reaching out to even ask for the interview may feel intimidating. But understand, people love sharing their stories. When you reach out, do so knowing that you considered them because of their experience and your level of respect for what they have accomplished.
Informational interviews open the door to candid conversations about the field you are interested in exploring. You can ask questions that give you a behind-the-scenes look at work you want to do. You can discover career paths you’ve never considered. You also can realize if you have the skills to do the work you dream about.
This tool expands your network. You meet new people each time you interview someone, and together, you find out what you have in common. Lastly, this tool builds your confidence to not only explore other work options, but it also equips you with the knowledge needed to make a smart career change.
To get the most out of the experience, know what you want, research the field, and identify the people who will help steer you in the right direction.
Know what you want. Recognize what bothers you about the work you currently are doing. Discover what makes you happy. Ask yourself where you want to be in a year, five years, or even 10 years from now. Take inventory of your skills. Capitalize on the skills you do well, and sharpen the ones that need to be strengthened. Then, research your new field or career path.
Research your area of interest. The world has changed and probably so has your industry. Discover what is innovative today. Check out new departments at your place of employment, or new career paths that may lead to other organizations. Research those organizations and see if you have any connections with people you might want to interview.
Identify excellent people. Take inventory of who are in your various networks: family and friends, co-workers, professional organizations, colleges/universities, and even social media. See what people are there who may connect you with people doing what you want to do. Once identified, research their life/career journeys. Find out if they have been viewed as experts in the media, won awards in their field, and/or share similar life experiences. Ultimately, find out what makes them of interest to you and your career exploration.
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Today, many of your informational interviews may take place via digital platforms. Take advantage of this by asking the person you’re interviewing if it’s OK to record the session. If making a phone call, try apps like Voice Memos. Using either of these will prevent you from having to take a ton of notes, and instead, help you concentrate on the conversation.
When meeting either in person or via a digital platform, treat this like a job interview. Show up on time and dress professionally. Prepare questions that go beyond your initial internet search.
As you conduct the meeting, follow the three P’s: Be personable, present, and patient. Being personable means being yourself. Show them this is truly a conversation about them and their life/career journeys. You asked to speak with them because you are truly interested in them. Being present means listening to their stories and staying engaged. If in person, use eye contact, smile, and an honest chuckle or two never hurts. Lastly, be patient. Don’t rush the conversation. Guide it purposefully to obtain the information you need, but don’t be rude by cutting off their stories.
In this meeting, there are no taboo questions. Ask about salary, real work expectations, what the person has enjoyed or hated about their line of work, what a typical day truly entails, and what they wished they knew before getting into the field.
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Allow the conversation to unfold naturally. Actively listen to their answers. Sometimes, you will pick up on something interesting that you hadn’t considered. Explore that path.
Stay in the agreed upon time allotment. When wrapping up, thank them for their time. Ask if you can stay in contact with them, and if there are any recommendations they can make to contact others who might be helpful as you research your new career path. And of course, don’t forget to send them a thank you note.
Remember, the informational meeting is meant to be a no-pressure conversation that expands your knowledge, network, and career vision. Armed with research and a little courage, this may be just the meeting that helps take your career—and life—in a refreshing new direction.
Nichole M. Palmer is an independent writer in Charlotte, N.C.