Informational Interviews Part 1 – Top 10 Benefits of Informational Interviews

Over the next 3 posts I will delve into the topic of Informational Interviews.  What is an Informational Interview?  Why are they so important to your job search or career planning process?  How do you go about setting one up?  What questions should you ask?

We will have a look at each of these questions in detail and by the end of this series you should have a solid sense of why the informational interview is so crucial to solidifying your decision about which career to pursue or which company to work for.

Many of the clients I work with have little to no knowledge about what an informational interview is or what it is designed to accomplish.  According to the popular employment and career website CareerBuilder.com, an informational interview is “a meeting that you schedule with a practicing professional for the purpose of learning more about their job, career path and/or company.”  Not to be confused with a job interview, the informational interview is meant to help you explore a new career or potential employer you might want to work for in the future.

While there are many benefits of doing informational interviews, here is a list of the top ten reasons you should incorporate informational interviews into your job search or career exploration:

10) Assess organizational culture:  Informational interviews can be invaluable in helping you decide where you want to work, either now or following any education or training you have to complete before entering the field.  Almost as important as deciding which career to pursue is finding an organization that has workplace values and goals that are aligned with your own.

9) Evaluate the industry: Every field has its strengths and vulnerabilities, and it is critical to be aware of these ahead of time.  Informational interviews present a chance for you to get insider knowledge about the predicted growth or reduction of the industry moving forward.  If the sector is anticipated to shrink or expand rapidly in the coming years, people working in the field will know about it.  And you will want to know too!

8) Understand what you need to get started: In a rapidly changing and increasingly complex labour market, it is imperative that you are aware of the baseline skill requirements needed to obtain entry level employment in your industry.  There is no need to waste thousands of dollars or years of time getting trained if the education is not relevant or sufficient to helping you land a paying job.  Further, if there are additional skills or certifications you need prior to entering the field, you can ensure you get them beforehand (i.e. First Aid or specialized computer training).

7) Clarify your educational goal: Most new jobs created in the next decade will require some post-secondary training.  But what if jobs in your desired field are the exception?  What if employers prefer to prepare people for the work through targeted internal training initiatives over formal educational programs?  This knowledge could potentially save you thousands of dollars and a lot of time by allowing you to avoid unnecessary educational endeavours.

Alternatively, if your career is one in the majority that will require post-secondary training, informational interviews are highly beneficial in helping you decide where to go.   Some schools have solid reputations in the workforce; others are widely unknown or unrecognized.  If education or skills training is a component of your career transition, you will want to know which schools and programs employers look to when they are hiring.  Use this feedback to guide your educational decision-making.

6) Determine a potential career path: What does a typical career path look like in your desired field, starting from the entry level?  What opportunities for growth and advancement exist in a particular organization?  Is there a saturation of professionals in leadership roles already?  These questions are all essential to a thorough job search or career plan.  Most people will not want to stagnate in their careers for extended periods and will want to have effort and hard work rewarded.  Will you have the chance to move up the latter if you work hard and strive for excellence?  An informational interview can help you assess these queries, both for a specific company and/or the sector at large.

5) Learn from mistakes: People in your industry have already gone through what you are about to go through and will have valuable advice as to what they would do differently if given the chance.  As the old adage goes, “hindsight is always 20/20.”  Ask your contacts what they would change if they could go back and start their career in the company or industry from scratch.  This way you can ensure you avoid making similar mistakes along the way.

4) Gain a competitive edge: Job seekers are currently facing an unprecedented amount of competition for opportunities, especially in the continuing aftermath of the global economic downturn.  Employers have the luxury of being more selective when assessing the talent pool.  Those individuals who come with secondary or supplemental skill-sets will stand out from the crowd.  An informational interview can shine light on potential volunteer or skill-building opportunities you can engage with to get on the inside track to employment in the industry or organization.

3) Build confidence: When you succeed in setting up an informational interview, you will feel good about it (and rightfully so!).  You can feel confident that the information you are getting is first-hand expertise from industry insiders.  This is knowledge that would be otherwise unavailable to you, and it will help you confirm or adjust your career choice and occupational goals.

2) Get a glimpse of a typical day:  It is crucial to get a realistic perspective on what an average day looks like in the life of someone currently working in your desired career.  After all, most days will be average days, and you will want to gauge whether you will be able to bring a consistent enthusiasm to the work over the long-term.  Ask about the good aspects of the job and inquire about the challenges; these are both very important.  But even more critical is to understand the day-to-day routine you will be dealing with on a continuing basis.

1) Expand your professional network: Above all, the informational interview is a powerful tool for building or stretching your professional network within an organization or industry.  They help you establish connections that can prove to be pivotal in helping you find employment.  In today’s economy, roughly 80% of jobs are not publicly advertised and are only available by tapping into “the hidden job market.”  Informational interviews allow you the chance to present yourself and “get your name out there” in your new field or company, which can be instrumental in helping you achieve your employment goals.

Although the benefits of informational interviews go well beyond this list, these are some of the most important ones to take into consideration.  Next week we will expand this discussion by looking at strategies you can use to set up your informational interviews.

This article was written by Ryan Paulson, a Career & Employment Information Specialist @ Pacific Community Resources Society who specializes in youth career development and Labour Market Information.

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  1. Informational Interviews Part 2 – Top 5 Strategies for Setting up Informational Interviews « The My ERC Blog
  2. Informational Interviews Part 3 – The 10 most important questions you need to ask « The My ERC Blog
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