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Use Informational Interviewing to Develop Job Prospects

The holidays are fast approaching.  Hooray! Time to rest, relax, and take a break from school work and the job search. Right?? Well, almost.

Actually, winter break is the perfect time to practice networking and conduct informational interviews.  Remember your dad’s coworker’s wife who works for Honda? Oh yeah – maybe you should talk to her.

What is an informational interview?

It is a one-on-one conversational with someone who has a job you might like, who is employed by a specific company that you’re interested in learning about, or who works within an industry you might want to enter.  The purpose of this is to gather advice and information. Let’s make this clear: you are not interviewing for a job/asking for a job.  You are having this conversation strictly to learn, and hopefully, build a relationship and your network.  If you do this right, you will not only gain knowledge but you will develop trust with that person, and they will think of you when they become aware of jobs later down the road.  It’s all about networking. Your goal is to influence the interviewer to like you, trust you, and want to refer you.

How to ask for an informational interview

The hardest thing may just be asking for one.  As a student, you probably have limited resources in the engineering industry.  Start with your inner circle: family members, friends, and LinkedIn connections are a great place to start.  Contact the person through email or phone to ask to arrange a meeting.  An in person meeting would be ideal, but if that’s not possible, set up a time to talk on the phone. 

Make your request customized.  Let them know how you identified them and why you’d like to talk to them.  An example script could be: “Nancy Jones thought you’d be a great person to talk to because you have been in the automotive industry, working as a mechanical engineer, for the past 10 years.  I’m very interested in this career path, and I’d love to have a brief conversation with you.  I think your background, knowledge, and experience will be very helpful to me.”

Let them know you only want 30 minutes of their time.  Remember, folks are busy.  You do not want to burden them.

How to conduct an informational interview

Prepare for this meeting just as you would for a formal job interview.  Dress at least business casual, bring copies of your resume, and research the person, company, industry, etc.  Things that you should be prepared to ask about include: the corporate culture, a typical work day, industry trends, and advice for someone entering the field. 

IMPRESS them with your knowledge of the industry, thoughtful questions, and genuine interest in what they have to say.

Added bonus: if you are meeting for coffee, buy them a cup! Remember, they are taking time out of their busy schedule to talk to you; show them gratitude.

After the informational interview

Your work is not done after the conversation.  Get referrals.  At the end of the conversation, ask if they can recommend anyone else you can speak with – remember – you want to broaden your network! 

You should always sent a thank you note or email.  Make sure they know how much you appreciated them giving you their time.  Finally, keep in touch.  Keep them informed of your progress. Let them know how your career decision making/job search progress is going.  Don’t be a stalker, but its fine to touch base once a month. This will keep you top of mind and also reinforce a long-lasting relationship.

Have a great holiday--and make the most of it!

"Information's pretty thin stuff unless mixed with experience." 
-Clarence Day

About the author

Katy Arenschield

Katy Arenschield is the Engineering Co-op and Internship Program Manager.