Networking is challenging. There are so many unknown factors, unspoken rules, and directions that you can take. But great things can come your way if you’re up to the challenge of wading through the murky waters of networking.
One of the best places to start networking is with an informational interview. These interviews aren’t for job offers, but they offer you a way to learn more about a specific field, career, or company in which you may be interested.
Whether you are in the middle of a job search or wanting to learn more about a future career opportunity, informational interviews are a rich source of information and opportunity. They can provide guidance, answers to your many questions, and a chance to network with potential connections in your desired field or industry.
With all of the positives that can come out of informational interviews, it’s important that you take them seriously. Like a typical job interview, you should spend some time preparing before you go. After all, you want to make a good impression on the person you’re interviewing. They are taking time out of their busy schedule, so it’s the respectful thing to do.
Here are four ways to prepare for a successful and an effective informational interview.
Research the Company or Career
Know some general background information before you head to the interview. You should be pretty well-informed about the topic. You don’t want to waste their time with general information that you can find online.
If the interview is for a specific company, know the company’s goals and objectives. You should be able to find more information about their mission statement and company culture on their website. Chances are that if you are interested in a company, you already have a general sense about the organization itself, but it’s always a good idea to know the specifics before you go to an informational interview. This way, you can ask specific questions that you cannot find online and you will be more able to follow along with whatever the interviewee says about the company.
Additionally, if the informational interview is specific to a career or position, rather than the company, you should do your best to find general information about that career online. What are the general qualifications? Where do people in the career typically work? Once you know the most basic questions, you can get into more detailed questions during the informational interview, such as ones that involve what it is like on a typical work day and what experiences led him or her to the current career.
Prepare Questions, Not Answers
Keep in mind that this is an interview for information, not a job. In typical job interviews, you prepare answers to questions that the interviewer will ask you. But this time, you’re in charge. You should go to the interview looking for answers instead of giving them.
Make sure that you have prepared questions ahead of time. After you do your basic research, you will have a better idea of what you want to know and get out of the interview. Think of general areas of the topic that interest you and have at least three or four questions that you can ask. However, make sure that you are flexible in your interview so that you can let the conversation flow naturally.
Dress for the Interview
Dress to impress for your informational interview. Depending on where you are meeting, you won’t necessarily have to be in full business attire, but you should at least look professional and sharp. Think of the informational interview as an informal opportunity to meet with a potential employer.
Throughout the process, keep in mind that the interviewee is taking time out of his or her day to answer your questions and lend a helping hand. Typically, the interviewee will get nothing in return for offering an informational interview, so make sure that you express gratitude for their help in your career search. Be sure to thank them for meeting you and, if you can, send a quick thank you note after the interview. You’ll be able to express how they helped you and that you appreciate all that they did.
Informational interviews have great potential, so it’s important that you prepare for them. Not only can they jumpstart you on your networking search, but they can also help you understand if you are on the right path. Do your work before the interview and you are well on your way to learning more about your own career path.