Tuesday, November 8, 2011

the informational interview

Following my conversation with Harry, I set out to begin conducting a series of informational interviews. But, I was flying blind. I knew what I should gain from the experience but failed to ask for specific guidelines. Years (and many many informational interviews) later, I can finally narrow the "must dos" to three bullet points.

Research :: Focus :: Expect

photo by Brady Withers
The worst thing you can do is walk into an informational interview with little to no idea about the person with whom you're speaking. Through Google, LinkedIn,  and similar resources, you can quickly learn a few details about your interviewee including:
  • If and where they studied
  • A brief career history
  • And perhaps professional associations with which they're involved. 
Now I don't advise that you walk in the door with a laundry list of everything you've learned (you want to be seen as well-informed not a potential stalker) but having some of this information in your back-pocket may help contextualize your conversation.

The goal of the informational interview is to learn about the interviewee: who she is, why she made the decisions she did, and how she got to where she is today. That being the case, she (your interviewee) should be the focus. Many make the mistake of walking into an informational interview talking about themselves. Not the point and a bad idea.

Now that said, you should expect to answer questions too. Because depending on the interviewee's time and inclination, she may turn the tables on you. Though you aren't expected to know and articulate long-term goals (if you could you likely wouldn't be spending your time conducting informational interviews), you should be prepared to articulate your short-term goals. Know your values and interests and expect that you may be called upon to answer a few directed questions.

Keep in mind that the overall aim of the informational interview is to learn and network. Being prepared, focused and ready to think on your feet will make an excellent first impression and will likely pay off in the long run.