How an Informational Interview Can Lead to a Job

by Alex Freund

October 15, 2013

The real danger hovering over the heads of some people in transition is the fact that they’re headed toward a cul-de-sac and don’t even know it. More and more articles point out that the business world is changing rapidly; new jobs are being created; and some old jobs are fading away. Regrettably, the jobs being eliminated do not appear on major publications’ front pages to announce that fact. The elimination of jobs does not happen universally everywhere at the same time. The symptoms that such a thing is happening get validated via an endless job search. And that’s where the danger comes in.

For people who experience long job searches, it’s good practice to (1) keep their eyes open for opportunities for related careers that would use their transferable skills or (2) look in a new direction all together. To facilitate that, they can consider searching for new venues via informational interviews. They shouldn’t make the mistake of asking for an informational interview only as an excuse to get in while in reality looking for a position that may be open. While the objective of a candidate in a job interview is to sell himself, the primary objective of an informational interview is to explore opportunities for a change in career. Via an informational interview, one can learn about the pros and the cons of that job, find out what skills are mandatory in order to be successful, what kind of training is required, what is the typical career path and what kind of compensation ranges are customary for a debutant.

If you’re interested in having an informational interview, you should try to schedule it during the day at a mutually convenient time. Most often, you’ll be invited to the organization’s office. Make sure you’re attired properly for the occasion. And remember that this is not a job interview. Forget the suit with the white shirt and tie. Make sure from the get-go that you’re not sending the wrong message. It would look very professional if you come prepared with questions and, possibly, an agenda that you prepared ahead of time. Feel free to take notes to the extent that that’s helpful to you. It is expected that you’ll of course be courteous toward your host, so to begin with, turn off your mobile phone!

You should set a time frame for this informational interview, and when the time is up, you should prepare to leave. An informational interview should be a dialogue wherein you’re mainly listening and the other party is talking. After all, that’s the whole purpose. And of course, a nice thank-you letter following the meeting is more than appropriate: it’s a must.

An informational interview can provide a wealth of knowledge for someone who wants to migrate to a different field. And oftentimes, a host can become so impressed with the candidate that eventually such a meeting could evolve into a full-time position. Go for it. Don’t expect that someone will drop a wonderful position in your lap.