You’re all set for the big meeting. You’ve got your questions written out, and you’re excited to learn more about the industry and what could be the perfect job for you.
This isn’t a job interview; it’s an informational interview, and if you’re going to choose one career planning strategy, this is your best bet.
Informational interviews are one of the most effective ways to land a job. They’re meetings that you set up with people who work in an industry, position or company you want to learn more about. The objective is to get exposure and advice, not ask for a job. They can help you determine the kind of work, specialty and field you want to pursue.
Here’s what some college students learned from going on informational interviews — and what you could learn too.
For 21-year-old Jill Perlmutter, a political science graduate from Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia, it was a chance to learn about a field she had been considering. "I knew I wanted to go into development or fundraising but wasn’t completely sure I understood the business side of the field," she says. "If I wanted to know what it was about, I knew I’d have to go to the source."
Perlmutter set up informational interviews with six development professionals in her area, including two from her college. The meetings confirmed her interest in the development field.
"Talking with someone is a great way to get a real feel for what a field is like, what it takes and what it requires," says Perlmutter, who now works as an advancement assistant for Benedictine High School in nearby Richmond, Virginia.
Practice Presenting Yourself to Others
"Informational interviewing increased my ability to talk to strangers and sell myself," says Elyssa Rosenbaum, a 22-year-old business graduate of Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania,
Rosenbaum, a client service coordinator for a meeting planning company in New York City, discovered event planning through her many informational-interviewing and job-shadowing experiences.
Additionally, these meetings boosted Rosenbaum’s confidence in her ability to present herself to others. "By the time I went on actual job interviews, they felt like a piece of cake."
Build a Network of Contacts
Sarah Gebeke, a 21-year-old senior communications major at the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, Minnesota, attended a panel discussion where several professionals talked about their careers. After learning that one of the panelists worked in the television industry, Gebeke decided to set up an informational interview with her.
Although the panelist moved to Chicago to work for Harpo Studios (home of Oprah), Gebeke continues to network with her.
"I email her lots of questions, and she gives me tips and advice that have helped me understand the field I want to pursue," Gebeke says. "Plus, I’m also sending her my resume for a future internship or job."
Land a Position
After graduating from Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut, in 2001, 23-year-old Rachel Goodman relocated to Boston.
Through a contact she had with Boston’s New England Aquarium, she was able to meet with the woman in charge of the organization’s internships and volunteering. During the informational interview, Goodman learned about the Aquarium’s project-based events-management internship, which she eventually got.
That internship, in turn, led to another, longer corporate sponsorship internship, which then led to her current position as a full-time member of the Aquarium’s membership department.
"That first interview allowed me to get my foot in the door of an organization I really wanted to be a part of," says Goodman.
While informational interviewing may seem like a daunting career-planning strategy, it’s worth it in the end. Goodman puts it best: "You never know what will result from an informational interview."