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How One Hour Can Save You Three Years of Your Life: The Power of Informational Interviews

a high school studnet conducting an informational interview to work out which career to pick when they graduate

In a world full of diverse career paths and educational opportunities, making the right choice can be daunting. But what if spending just one hour on an informational interview could save you from spending three years in the wrong field or university course? This guide explores how informational interviews, a simple yet powerful tool, can guide your decisions, enhance your professional network, and pave the way for your dream career.

In this article, we will cover: 

  1. What Is an Informational Interview?: Explanation of what an informational interview is, including different names for it and its distinction from a traditional job interview.
  2. Why Should You Do Informational Interviews?: Overview of the benefits of conducting informational interviews, including gaining career insights, networking, clarifying career goals, and personal development.
  3. How to Organize Informational Interviews: Step-by-step guide on identifying target professions, utilizing personal networks and social media, crafting initial contact, and scheduling interviews.
  4. How to Prepare for the Informational Interview: Instructions on identifying objectives, researching the interviewee, preparing questions, and logistical planning.
  5. How to Reflect on the Interview Afterwards: Reflection questions designed to help assess alignment with interests and values, understanding the role and industry, surprises, and next steps.
  6. Sending a Thank You Note After the Interview: Guidance on crafting a professional thank-you note to express gratitude and maintain a connection with the interviewee.
  7. FAQs About Informational Interviews: Common questions and answers about informational interviews, covering their purpose, preparation, and the key rule to not openly express interest in a job.

What is an informational interview? 

An informational interview, also known as an informational conversation, informational meeting, or exploratory interview, is a conversation between a person who is exploring career options and a professional working in a field of interest. Unlike a job interview, the primary goal of an informational interview is to gather insights, ask questions, and learn more about the industry, company, or specific roles. It's an invaluable tool for anyone looking to break into a new field, switch careers, or simply gain a deeper understanding of a particular profession.

There is one key rule for a successful informational interview: never openly express interest in a job opportunity with the interviewee's organization (except perhaps at the very end of the conversation, and even then, with caution). The moment you do, the tone of the conversation shifts dramatically from an open and honest sharing of insights to an evaluation of your suitability for a position. This shift can limit the valuable, candid information you can gain, turning the conversation into something more akin to a formal job interview. By adhering to this rule, you maintain the integrity of the informational interview and ensure that it remains a learning experience rather than an assessment.

Why Should You Do Informational Interviews?

Informational interviews are a powerful tool for anyone exploring potential career paths, especially for teenagers just starting on their professional journey. Here's an overview of the benefits of conducting informational interviews:

  1. Gaining Insight into a Career: Speaking directly with someone in the field allows you to get an inside look into what the job is really like, beyond what you might find online or in job descriptions.

  2. Networking Opportunities: Informational interviews can help you build connections with professionals in the field you're interested in. These connections might later help you in your job search or even become mentors.

  3. Clarifying Your Career Goals: By learning about different roles, industries, and company cultures, you can more accurately assess what might be a good fit for you.

  4. Understanding the Skills and Qualifications Needed: Professionals can provide insight into the specific skills, education, and experience that are necessary for success in their field.

  5. Preparation for Future Interviews: Conducting informational interviews can help you become more comfortable speaking with professionals and asking insightful questions. This practice can be invaluable when you're ready for job interviews.

  6. Personal Growth and Confidence Building: Engaging with professionals in informational interviews can boost your confidence, enhance your communication skills, and encourage proactive behavior in your career development.

  7. Potential for Discovering Unadvertised Opportunities: Sometimes, informational interviews lead to learning about job opportunities that haven't been advertised publicly. Even if that's not the primary goal, it's an added benefit that could come from making these connections.

  8. Enhancing Your Professional Presence: By conducting yourself professionally in these interviews, you're practicing the soft skills needed in the workplace, such as communication, active listening, and professionalism.

  9. Customized Advice and Guidance: Unlike general career advice, the insights gained from an informational interview are tailored to your specific questions and interests. This customization can be incredibly valuable in guiding your career path.

  10. Broadening Your Perspective: Informational interviews with professionals from various backgrounds, roles, and industries can broaden your understanding of the diverse opportunities available to you.

Informational interviews are a versatile and invaluable resource in career exploration, providing real-world insights, networking opportunities, and personal development that can guide and shape your career path. They can demystify the world of work, making it more accessible and less intimidating, especially for those just beginning to explore their options.

How to Organise Informational Interviews

1. Identify the Target Profession

Before reaching out, it's essential to know what kind of professionals you want to talk to. Research different careers, industries, and companies that interest you. Think about the specific questions you have and who might best answer them.

2. Use Your Personal Network

Start by talking to your parents, family, friends, teachers, or counselors to see if they know anyone in the field you're interested in. Personal connections can be an excellent way to secure informational interviews.

3. Utilize LinkedIn

If you're old enough to have a LinkedIn account, it's a great tool for finding professionals in your target field.

  • Create a Professional Profile: Ensure your profile is complete and professional, highlighting any relevant experiences or interests.
  • Search for Professionals: Use the search tool to find people in your desired field or company.
  • Send Connection Requests: Write a personalized note explaining your interest and why you'd like to connect.

4. Reach Out via Other Social Media

If LinkedIn isn't an option, other social media platforms might work, depending on the profession. Always remember to maintain a professional tone.

5. Crafting the Initial Contact

Whether reaching out via email, social media, or through a connection, here are some tips for crafting that first message:

  • Be Polite and Professional: Introduce yourself and explain why you're reaching out.
  • State Your Intentions Clearly: Explain that you're interested in an informational interview and why.
  • Show Genuine Interest: Mention something specific about their career or company that interests you.
  • Propose a Time: If possible, suggest a time frame but remain flexible.

6. Prepare for the Interview

Once you've secured the interview, prepare by researching the person's career and company and writing down the questions you'd like to ask.

7. Conduct Yourself Professionally

Treat the interview like a professional meeting. Dress appropriately, arrive on time (or log in early if virtual), and remember to thank them for their time.

8. Send a Thank You Note

After the interview, send a thank you note or email expressing gratitude for their time and sharing something valuable you learned.

Template Interview Review Email

Subject: Request for Informational Interview - Exploring a Career in [Field]

Dear [Professional's Name],

I hope this email finds you well. My name is [Your Full Name], and I am a high school student with a keen interest in [specific field or industry]. As I'm exploring potential career paths, I came across your profile and was impressed by your work at [Company Name] and your experience in [mention a specific area or project that caught your eye].

I'm reaching out to kindly request an informational interview with you. I believe speaking with someone as accomplished as yourself would provide invaluable insights into the [specific field or industry] and help me make more informed decisions about my future.

The purpose of this interview is purely educational, and I would be immensely grateful for the opportunity to ask you a few questions about your career journey, day-to-day responsibilities, and any advice you might have for someone considering a career in this field.

I understand that your time is valuable, so I'm flexible to schedule the interview at a time that suits you best. It could be a brief phone call, a virtual meeting, or even an email exchange, whatever you prefer.

Thank you very much for considering my request. I look forward to the opportunity to learn from your experience, and I truly appreciate any time you can spare.

Best regards,

[Your Full Name] [Your Contact Information - Phone Number/LinkedIn Profile]

P.S. If you are not available for an interview, I would still greatly appreciate any resources or advice you could share regarding a career in [specific field or industry]. Thank you once again.

How to Prepare For The Informational Interview 

1. Identify Your Objectives

  • Define what you want to learn from the interview. Are you exploring a specific role, industry, or company? Pinpoint what information will help you decide if this career path is right for you.

2. Research the Interviewee and Their Field

  • Look up the person on LinkedIn and other professional networks.
  • Study their career trajectory, educational background, skills, and recent projects.
  • Research the industry they work in, including trends, key players, and common career paths.

3. Prepare Thoughtful Questions

Based on your research and personal interests, prepare questions that delve into areas most relevant to you. Here are some sample questions:

  • Can you describe a typical day in your role?
  • What skills are most important in this field?
  • How did you get started in this profession?
  • What do you find most rewarding and challenging about your work?
  • Can you recommend any resources or steps to take for someone interested in this field?
  • How do you see this industry evolving in the future?
  • What advice would you give to someone like me, who is considering this career path?

4. Consider Your Own Background and Interests

  • Think about your strengths, values, and passions. How do they align with what you've learned about this career?
  • Prepare to discuss your own background briefly, so the interviewee has context for your questions.

5. Organize Your Thoughts

  • Write down your questions in a logical order, starting with broader questions about the industry and narrowing down to specifics about the individual's experience.
  • Practice asking the questions to ensure you feel confident on the day.

6. Plan the Logistics

  • Confirm the date, time, and medium (phone, video call, etc.) for the interview.
  • Test any necessary technology in advance, if applicable.
  • Have a notebook or document ready to take notes during the conversation.

7. Prepare to Follow Up

  • Think about how you'll thank the person afterward (a thank-you email is always a nice touch).
  • Consider any follow-up questions you might have or connections you might want to make based on the conversation.

Remember, an informational interview is not just a chance to learn about a job; it's an opportunity to reflect on how the career aligns with your unique personality and goals. The preparation will help you make the most of this valuable experience.

How to Reflected on the Interview Afterwards

Reflection is a crucial step in processing the information gathered during an informational interview and determining how it fits into the individual's career interests. Here are some reflection questions designed to help teenagers evaluate their thoughts and feelings after the interview:

  1. Alignment with Interests and Values:

    • How does this career align with your personal interests, strengths, and values?
    • Were there aspects of the job that excited you or resonated with you? What were they?
    • Were there any aspects that concerned you or seemed misaligned with your preferences?
  2. Understanding of the Role and Industry:

    • What did you learn about the daily responsibilities, challenges, and rewards of this role?
    • Are there any areas where you still feel confused or have outstanding questions?
  3. Surprises and New Insights:

    • Was there anything in the interview that surprised you or changed your perspective about this career?
    • Did you discover new aspects of the industry or role that you hadn't considered before?
  4. Additional Research and Conversations:

    • Are there topics that you want to research further or discuss with parents, mentors, or someone you trust?
    • Do you feel the need to conduct more informational interviews with others in the same field or a different area of interest?
  5. Emotional Reactions and Intuition:

    • How did the conversation make you feel? Excited, curious, indifferent, or apprehensive?
    • Did your intuition give you any signals about whether this career might be a good fit?
  6. Next Steps and Decision Making:

    • Based on what you learned, do you feel this career is something you want to pursue further?
    • What are your next steps? Are there other careers you want to explore, or do you want to take concrete actions toward pursuing this path?
  7. Interview Experience:

    • How did you feel about your performance during the interview? What went well, and what could you improve?
    • How was your rapport with the interviewee? Did you feel comfortable asking your questions?

These reflective questions can be a valuable tool in guiding teenagers through a thoughtful and intentional exploration of potential careers. They encourage an honest and personalized assessment of the career in question, helping individuals recognize not just the practical aspects of the role but also how it aligns with their unique personality and aspirations.

Sending a Thank You Note After the Interview 

Subject: Thank You for the Insightful Conversation

Dear [Interviewee's Name],

I hope this email finds you well. I want to extend my sincere gratitude for taking the time to meet with me and share your insights into [specific career/industry]. Our conversation was incredibly enlightening and has provided me with a deeper understanding of what it's like to work in [field/position].

Your perspectives on [mention specific topics discussed, such as daily responsibilities, industry trends, or personal experiences] were particularly helpful as I explore potential career paths. Your willingness to share your experiences and offer guidance has been invaluable, and I truly appreciate the thoughtful advice you provided.

I am inspired by your work in [mention a specific project or aspect of their role that impressed you], and it's given me much to think about as I consider my future career options. I will certainly take your advice to heart as I continue my exploration.

Please know that your time and insights mean a great deal to me, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to learn from someone with your expertise. If there's anything I can do for you in the future or if you have any additional thoughts or resources you'd like to share, please don't hesitate to reach out.

Thank you once again, and I look forward to staying in touch.

Best regards,

[Your Full Name] [Your LinkedIn Profile or other contact information, if appropriate]

FAQs About Informational Interviews

What is an informational interview?
An informational interview is a casual conversation with someone working in a field you're interested in. It's not a job interview, but a chance to learn about a profession, company, or industry from someone with firsthand experience.
Why should I do an informational interview?
If you're unsure about what career path to follow, informational interviews can provide insight into different professions. They allow you to ask questions, gather valuable information, and get a realistic picture of what it's like to work in a particular field.
How do I find someone to interview?
You can start by asking family and friends if they know someone in the field you're interested in. Social media platforms like LinkedIn can also be helpful. Don't be shy; most people are flattered to be asked and happy to help!
What should I ask during the interview?
Ask questions about the person's career path, daily tasks, the skills needed, and what they enjoy or find challenging about their job. The goal is to get a sense of whether this career might be a good fit for you.
Is it okay to ask for a job during an informational interview?
No, an informational interview is not the right time to ask for a job. It's a chance to learn and explore. Asking for a job might change the tone of the conversation and make it less informative and more evaluative.
How do I prepare for an informational interview?
Research the field and the person you'll be interviewing. Prepare thoughtful questions, and don't forget to be yourself. Your genuine curiosity and enthusiasm will make a positive impression.
What do I do after the interview?
Reflect on what you've learned and how it aligns with your interests and values. Send a thank-you note to express your gratitude, and consider conducting more informational interviews to explore other careers.

More Resources

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