Finding an internship or first job can be a challenging experience. Your best sources of employment leads are usually your own university or your own personal network. Colleges and universities are organized to help you through Career Services, Internship Centers, and academic departments. If you want to work geographically far from your university, you will want to activate both your college and personal networks to assist you in making connections.
The informational interview is your most powerful networking tool. As a college student or new graduate, you will always benefit by being open to learning about career opportunities or an industry. Don’t confuse it with a traditional interview. An informational interview is really a career research meeting that you request. You should be the one asking most of the questions. The person meeting with you is doing you a favor and providing you valuable insight. Here are some key differences and insights describing the difference between an informational interview and a traditional interview.
|Job Posting||Not necessarily. However, openings may be uncovered during the meeting.
|Yes a specific job is available and posted.|
|Strategy||You are there to learn. Don’t ask for a job. Ask for advice. In the meantime, you may learn about a job, new contacts to make or other key information.
|Know everything about the exact job that is posted and how your skills match the requirements. Be enthusiastic and clear about the match.|
|Questioning||Done primarily by you. Prepare to ask open ended questions. At the end, ask for suggestions for other contacts that might be helpful.
|Prepare to answer the interviewer’s questions. You also want to ask a few great questions at the end that show your interest and that you have researched the company.|
|How to Initiate||Call or email your contact and ask for a brief informational meeting. Don’t even use the word interview. Mention you are seeking career and/or industry advice.
|Respond to a job posting or lead in a timely and professional manner.|
|Length of interview||Shorter, typically 15 – 30 minutes.
|Typically 45 – 60 minutes. May be longer if it’s a group interview or there are multiple interviewers.|
|Location||In person or on phone. Always ask for in person if possible. ( if there is an option)
|May be in person, phone, skype or video. (Interviewer’s choice). If there is a hardship or major cost for your interview, mention to the interviewer and they may pay your expenses.|
|The Power||You may uncover terrific new contacts or opportunities that are not advertised. You will be able to build your network by staying in touch.
|Typically your opportunity is limited to the position you are interviewing for.|
|Follow Up||Send a thank you email and hand written card within 24 hours, showing appreciation for the time and advice.
|Send a thank you email and hand written card within 24 hours, expressing thanks and enthusiasm for the position.|
Here are 10 questions you may want to consider for your informational interview:
- Can you describe what you do in your current position?
- Why did you choose this profession?
- What do you like about your career? What would you change if possible?
- Can you tell me about your career path and how you prepared for this role?
- What other types of positions exist in this industry?
- What are the typical entry level (or internship) positions in this company/ industry?
- Are there courses or professional development opportunities that I should consider to make me a more competitive candidate to enter this industry?
- Are there professional organizations or associations that I should consider?
- What are the major opportunities and challenges at your company? industry?
- Follow up Questions such as: How can I best stay in touch with you? and Who else can you recommend that I meet with?
Use the same etiquette as you would in a traditional interview, and be attuned to the timing of the meeting so you don’t overstay your welcome. The opportunities to network and learn are surprisingly extensive if you consider your family friends, neighbors, alumni, and contacts you have developed on LinkedIn or from career fairs. Prepare well; follow up and you can expect to expand your network and gain valuable insights.
Are you ready for your first informational interview?