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A Guide To Informational Interviewing

Definition and purpose
Twelve good reasons to conduct an informational interview
Who should you interview?
The telephone call
How do you place a call to a contact person?
How to be successful in your telephone communications?
How to get past the hurdles?
Conducting the informational interview
The questions you should ask 
Information on the industry
Information on the company
Information on the position/occupation you are interested in and the profile of the ideal candidate for this position
Information on job opportunities and career plans
Conclusion
Practical exercise

Definition and purpose

An informational interview is a networking strategy used to:

  1. Explore business careers and pinpoint your career objective; it will help you understand the reality of careers you are interested in and discover other interesting options.
  2. Conduct a job search with potential employers, develop your network of contacts and access the hidden labour market.

More specifically, an informational interview is a 15 to 45 minute meeting with a professional from an industry or sector you are interested in.  Ideally, this meeting takes place in person.  Nevertheless, if the targeted person is not available to meet with you in person, the interview can also take place by telephone or by email exchange.   

Twelve good reasons to conduct an informational interview :

  1. To validate and refine a career choice by looking into the daily activities of a person working in a position/field you are interested in;
  2. To find out about the feasible paths to follow to eventually access the desired position as well as the profile required to do so;
  3. To compare your idea of the labour market with the reality of people working in the industries/areas your are interested in;
  4. To discover job opportunities that are not posted;
  5. To focus your career in a new business field that you need to become familiar with;
  6. To discover other career possibilities you could access with your current skills and knowledge;
  7. To discover the real labour market in Quebec or elsewhere in Canada;
  8. To build your network of contacts in order to obtain other informational interviews;
  9. To develop a solid knowledge of the vocabulary associated with the field you are interested in;
  10. To practice your communication skills and build up your confidence for future job interviews;
  11. To obtain information on the recruiting process of employers you are interested in;
  12. To discover the best job search strategies in a given industry/sector.

Who should you interview?

  • A person working in a position, professional field, company, business industry or place you are interested in;
  • One of your current or former teachers; a study program supervisor;
  • An alumni from the School (HEC or former university);
  • A person who could possibly be your immediate superior;
  • A classmate;
  • A member of an association;
  • A current or former colleague;
  • A current or former employer.

 

The telephone call

How do you place a call to a contact person?

To obtain and plan an informational interview with the person of your choice, you must first contact the person either by telephone or by email (or a combination of both).  It is therefore paramount to use this communication tool effectively to increase your chances of success.  Remember, if you babble during your phone conversation, the contact stops there!   

How to be successful in your telephone communications?

  • Prepare yourself thoroughly by drafting an "introduction" you feel comfortable with, namely a convincing and effective message (complete the practical exercise).
  • Practice your "introduction" out loud beforehand. Repeat it until the text becomes natural.  Try it out on a family member or a friend.
  • Be careful about your attitude on the phone. Avoid being too friendly, pushy or insistent. Try not to appear as lacking self-confidence or being too modest.  Make sure you talk fluidly, professionally and be polite.
  • The message you want to convey is that you are looking for information.  If you start by asking your contact person if there are any jobs available, it may become awkward and he/she may be on the defensive.  And with good reason! Who wants to disclose a job opportunity to someone they don't even know!

Once you are connected with the targeted person, start at the beginning:

  •  Introduce yourself briefly; state your current position and your experience;
  • Name the person who referred you (if applicable);
  • You need to find out more about…
  • You are requesting a 20-minute interview, at most;
  • You are not looking for a job, you are just looking for information;
  • Try to set a specific appointment (date and time).

How to get past the hurdles?

  1. What to do if the person answering your call is the assistant rather than your contact person?
  • Greet the person and ask to speak with the targeted person.
  • The assistant will probably ask you the reason for your call: you can then mention that you were referred by ­­­­­_______  (mutual contact, if applicable) and that you would like to take just a few minutes to get some professional advice.
  • Be careful: do not invent reasons and avoid talking about a job search with the assistant, as you will be referred to Human Resources.  Also, avoid saying, "It's personal".

   2.  What to do if you get the voice mail?

  •  Do not leave a message right away; try calling again at various times during the day, without exaggerating, to try and talk directly to your contact person
  • If you cannot reach the person, leave a message, one that you have thoroughly prepared in advance (introduction)
  • Be clear, specific, brief and courteous.
  • Leave your contact information and mention the best time to reach you.
  • Do not talk about a job search.


Conducting the informational interview 

  1. At the beginning of the meeting, you must thank the contact for his or her willingness to meet with you and re-emphasize the purpose of the meeting.
  2. Make sure you are prepared with a structured line of professional questions.
  3. Keep in mind: You will be conducting the informational interview, as opposed to the job interview.  You must relate your preparedness but still be flexible.
  4. If you have asked for a 15, 20, 30 minute meeting, you must stick to the time allotted out of respect for your contact's schedule unless your contact invites you to continue. 
  5. At the end of the meeting, if you have a list of companies (a reasonably short list) you wish to target, you may ask your contact if he/she knows anyone you can meet within these companies. 
  6. Should the contact mention any job openings within the company during the interview, do not immediately ask to apply unless your contact specifically invites you to do so.  Sometimes an informational interview can turn into a job interview.  You can then take advantage of the opportunity but only if your contact person initiates it.
  7. Within the next few days, send a short thank you note by email.  If the meeting has confirmed your interest in working with your contact person's team or the company, you can attach your resume or better yet, call your contact.  Tell him/her you are definitely interested in working with him/her and ask about the procedure to follow to apply.  At this time, you are no longer in "informational" mode but rather in "promotional" mode.
  1.  

The questions you should ask 

Information on the industry

  • What is your vision of the labour market in general? 
  • Where does your company rank within its industry:  its strengths, weaknesses, competition, etc.? 
  • What is the status of this industry and its future?

Information on the company

  • What are the main products and services of this company?  (You must however have some knowledge on this subject).
  • What is the company's background?
  • How many people are working in your field?
  • What are the company's objectives, directions and priorities over the next few years?
  • What kind of support does the personnel benefit from?
  • How does the usual selection process work?

Information on the position/occupation you are interested in and the profile of the ideal candidate for this position

  • What are the duties and responsibilities of your position (or any other position you are interested in)?
  • Can you tell me about a typical day in your position?
  • What is the ideal candidate profile (education, experience, specific skills, qualities and abilities)?
  • What are the steps to take to access this position or field once you have graduated (recommended activities, involvement, transitional positions)?
  • What are the main problems encountered in this type of work?
  • What is most rewarding about your work? What is most demanding?
  • How did you find your job?  What does the future hold for jobs in this field?

Information on job opportunities and career plans

  • What are the training or professional development possibilities at the beginning and during employment?
  • Are in-house promotions encouraged or does the company prefer outside recruiting?
  • What is the typical path of a (financial analyst, product manager, etc.) within this company?
  • What is the best way to get in?
  • In general, how many years of experience does it take to get to this type of position?
  • Are people in this type of position in demand right now?
  • What specific advice would you give someone who is just starting in this field?
  • What professional magazine or organization would give me more information on this field?
  • In your opinion, what are some of the work-related problems in this field?


Conclusion

The key to a successful, effective and relevant informational interview is preparation.  Take the time you need before you start the process.  After each meeting, also take the time to reflect on the information you have gathered.  What did you learn that can be useful?  What impact has this interview had on your thought process? Has your opinion of the targeted subject changed?

 

Furthermore, it is as important to develop your network of contacts, as it is to maintain and take care of it!  Try and stay in touch on a regular basis with the people you have met.  The purpose is for them not to forget you.  Keep them in the loop and remember to ask about them also.  Let them know of any development in your professional situation, share articles on current issues or information on a subject you have talked about.  In short, always remember that networking is first and foremost an exchange process and that any contact must be based on a give-and-take relationship.

 


Practical exercise 

  1. Before making an appointment, be specific on your situation. What do you want to know?  Where are you in this process: defining your career objective or looking for the desired job?  What are your unanswered questions?  Identify, in your current situation, your need for information.
  2. Prepare in advance an outline of your introductory text.  The following examples of scenarios can help you:
  • "Good morning (good afternoon) Mr./Mrs. X, my name is ____________, I'm a student at HEC Montréal and will be graduating with a Master's degree in Finance in a few months.  I was given the information that you are currently a ­­­__________ (occupation) and work in the _______ (sector or industry).  I am looking for information and insight into the profession/career of ________ to make sure I am fully informed and prepared for this line of work.  Would you allow me to take about 10-15 minutes of your time so I can find out more about your field of expertise?"
  • "Good morning (good afternoon) Mr./Mrs. X, my name is ____________.  I will be graduating from HEC Montréal in a few months with an MBA.  A mutual acquaintance, Mr./Mrs. ­­­­­__________, suggested I call you to get some advice as I am redirecting my career in finance, a field I am most interested in.  I have experience in engineering project management and solid knowledge of the energy and aeronautic fields.  I would like to talk to you about the profiles required in your industry and would value your opinion on the best way to be successful in my career transition.  Would you be available for about 15 minutes to help me answer some of these questions?
  • "Good morning (good afternoon) Mr./Mrs. X, my name is ____________.  I am calling you as suggested by a mutual acquaintance, Mr./Mrs. ____________. He/she told me that you are the ideal person I should talk to for insight on  ____________ (occupation, field, company, industry).  Would this be a convenient time for you?  This will only take about 15 minutes.
  • "Good morning (good afternoon) Mr./Mrs. X, my name is ____________.  I was told that you are a ­­­­­­­­­­__________ (position/type of work/trade).  I am looking for some advice that will help me choose a professional field (trade).  I would like to know what kind of advice you would give someone who wants to work in your field.  Would you have about 10-15 minutes to talk to me?"
  • "Good morning (good afternoon) Mr. /Mrs. X, my name is ________.  I will be graduating from HEC Montréal with a BBA shortly.  A mutual acquaintance, __________, highly suggested that I call you.  I am very interested in international trade and believe that you would be the ideal person to talk to for information on the subject and give me some advice on the procedures to follow to access a position like yours, once I have graduated.  Would you have 15-20 minutes to answer a few questions I have?"
  •  "Good morning (good afternoon) Mr. /Mrs. X, my name is ________. We met online on the LinkedIn website when discussing the aerospace industry.  I just graduated from HEC Montréal with a master's degree in marketing.  My thesis was on product positioning in the aerospace industry.  I would really appreciate meeting with you for just 15-20 minutes so I can benefit from your advice and get your opinion on the best way to start off my career in this field."
 
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