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Everything You Need to Know About Informational Interviews: The Basics (Part 1)

If you’ve been considering a new career path or planning a job change, you may have encountered the concept of, “informational interviews.”

This term refers to a popular and effective information gathering strategy for career changers and job seekers. However, many online career experts only mention it briefly and at a superficial level. Most people know vaguely what it’s all about but, when faced with the prospect of actually doing one, they feel woefully ill-prepared.

Because informational interviews can play such a powerful role in executing a successful employment transition, this is an important topic for any career-minded individual. In this 3-part series, we’re going to give you everything you need to leverage this tool, starting here with the basics.

Also read: 5 Reasons You Never Hear Back After an Informational Interview and What to do Instead

What Is an Informational Interview & Why Use It?

The concept is simple: Before you make important career decisions, interview someone who has the “insider” information you want or need to make a well-informed choice.

When you’re attempting to make a career or job change, you want to make smart choices based on evidence. Reliable information is essential, but it’s also hard to come by. For example, it can be difficult to really know what a certain organization is like from the outside. Online reviews only tell you so much, and there’s no telling how trustworthy it is. Wouldn’t it be much better to physically talk to someone in your network who actually works there?

The same thing is true when exploring a new role or an entirely new career path. Sure, you can read about what life is like as a software developer and you can imagine it based on your own observations. Or, you could sit down with someone who does it for a living and ask for their honest assessment. Which option do you think will be more fruitful?

Whatever it is you’re considering, chances are pretty good that someone out there already knows everything you’re curious about. That person can shed light on every mystery and give you real-world insight you simply can’t get elsewhere.

“Informational interview” is just the name we give to these kinds of conversations.

Read Part 2 of the Series: Who to Ask

When Should You Use an Informational Interview?

 As suggested to earlier, this is a strategy to employ when you’re in the exploration phase of your transition—when you’re not sure what direction you want to go, you have a few options to consider and you need more data to help identify a path forward.

Don’t get an informational interview mixed up with a job interview. This is a more informal conversation intended to assist you in decision-making, not to determine if you’re the right fit for a specific role at a specific company. In some cases, this might lead to an invitation for a job interview, but don’t count on it; that’s not the purpose. When you ask for an informational interview, people are prepared for a specific type of conversation. If you go in looking for a job, it will shift the focus of the discussion and confuse the person on the other end.

Stay tuned for more on this topic! In the next part of this series, we’ll explore who to ask and how to make the request. Then, we’ll dive into execution and define the steps for how to successfully conduct an informational interview. By the time we’re done, you’ll have everything you need.

About the Author

Chrissy Scivicque is a career coach, corporate trainer and public speaker who believes work can be a nourishing part of the life experience. Her website, Eat Your Career, is devoted to this mission. Chrissy is currently a contributing career expert for U.S. News & World Report and the author of the book, The Proactive Professional: How to Stop Playing Catch Up and Start Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life!), available on Amazon.