How to have an effective informational interview

A great way to find out if a particular career path is interesting for you is by having an informational interview. This is different from job interview. In a job interview, the focus is on you; while the focus of an informational interview is on gathering information - there is no need to sell yourself. In general informational interviews take place before the application process starts, or before a job interview. The purpose is to gather the most essential information you need to decide whether this type of job and company is a match for you. You can expect these kinds of interviews to take 15-30 minutes. As you speak to several professionals you’ll gain an understanding you could have never gotten from a job description.


What are the benefits of an informational interview?

The effective informational interview -- focus on you

By conducting informational interviews with professionals, you can:

• receive first-hand information by a pro;
• get an idea of company culture;
• create a truthful picture of all the activities of the job (profile);
• obtain insider knowledge for job application in this path;
• initiate a professional relationship, and extend your network.

But what kind of questions should you ask during an informational interview? How can  you prepare? Read on to learn more.

Before you initiate contact

Practice your pitch

Always make sure you have your pitch ready. You need to explain who you are and what you want to anyone who will listen. People have written whole books about the elevator pitch, keep a few things in mind: Be authentic and talk slow, but keep to the point and don’t let the tension make you forget to smile. Remember your body language and mimicry during the interview!

Here’s an example:
“Hi, my name is Jenny and I am a lab technician, it’s my first job and for the first year I really enjoyed the new challenges, but now I am realising I want more responsibility and I would like more variety in my daily tasks. Most importantly I would like to move to fundamental science to translational science and actually see innovative medicine in action. I studied biomedical sciences with a specialisation in communication and I recently have gotten interested in the career of a clinical research associate. I would love to learn more about it.”


Prepare the interview

First do a background check, and be prepared to ask the individual about career steps that you found surprising, interesting or inspiring. This way you’ll show you are interested in the person and that you have done your homework. It’s a nice way to start the interview. Next prepare for example some of the following questions.

• What are your daily activities?
• What is a typical day/ week for you?
• What do you like most about your job
• What do you like least about your job?
• How does this job affect your lifestyle / work-life balance?
• How do you see this job evolving in the next 5 to 10 years?
• What kind of personality and competences are needed to be successful in this field?
• How can I get into this field, what are common entry-level jobs?
• Is there anything YOU would have done differently on this career path?
• Who else would you recommend that I speak with about this career path?


How do you initiate contact?

Now that you’re prepared you can find professionals to speak to.
At BCF Career, we are fan of informational interviews, that is why at every event there are always Q&A Professionals available for you to chat to. When BCF is too far away, or the career paths you are interested in, are not covered, here some tips to contact a person you would like to talk to:
You can reach out to people you know from your study times, internships or side-jobs. It can also be a good idea to ask people with more connections, e.g. someone you know working in a company or friends of friends. You can also have a look at companys' websites or LinkedIn.
When you contact someone you would like to talk to, always mention how you got their name. Next, you say you would like to time to talk for a few minutes sometime soon, and when that person might be available for a chat, coffee or a phone call. Make sure you explain you are looking for information, and you’re not looking for a job.


Don’t forget: make sure you are prepared to do the informational interview on the spot, as you never know how someone will reply. Be on time, polite and interested in the person sitting in front of you.

You are in charge of the interview: you asked for the interview, so you should be asking questions, listen carefully and follow up on things the other person says.
When the interview is over thank them for their time. Make sure you write down what you have learned and don’t forget to follow up with a thank you email. After you have spoken to different professionals, compare your notes. I’m sure you will find a career path that is right for you.

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