The Informational Interview: The Secret Weapon of Job Searching

This guest post was written by Katie McCune, a Career Devel­op­ment Assis­tant at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity Career Devel­op­ment. She’s also a Career Assis­tant at MIT.

Ever heard of an infor­ma­tional inter­view? If you’re any­thing like me when I was an under­grad­uate, this con­cept is drawing up a big, huge ques­tion mark in your thought-​​bubble. If you don’t want to be in the suc­cessful job-​​search club, then this is your queue to go back to won­dering why you didn’t come up with these col­lege hacks (because let’s be real, they are pretty awe­some). If, how­ever, you would like to join the pay-​​check earning, “look at me, I got a job” club, read on.

Yes!!!! source: memegenerator.net

Yes!!!!
source: memegen​er​ator​.net

So, what the heck is an infor­ma­tional interview?

An infor­ma­tional inter­view is an inter­view in reverse. Instead of an employer inter­viewing you, you meet with some­body in an industry you’re inter­ested in learning more about and inter­view them. And…you got it…the whole point is to gather infor­ma­tion. Think of all you could learn if you had 30 min­utes with the CEO of your favorite com­pany, or anyone in your favorite com­pany for that matter! Some­times all you have to do is ask for their time.

But what should I ask in an infor­ma­tional interview?

There are no right or wrong ques­tions to ask, so ask what­ever would be helpful for you. Want to know how to break into the field? Ask it! Want to know how impor­tant cre­ativity is at the orga­ni­za­tion, or what the day-​​to-​​day work looks like, or the work/​life bal­ance, or…? Ask away!  You can ask about the person’s own back­ground, the com­pany that person works for, or the field in gen­eral. There’s only one rule: don’t ask for a job. I repeat, DO. NOT. ASK. FOR. A. JOB! It’s sort of like dating. How awk­ward would it be if on your first date your lucky com­panion asked you if you would marry them? Whoa, slow down buddy, we just met. Same deal with an infor­ma­tional inter­view. Don’t ask for a job on your first meeting, it’s not going to work.

If I can’t ask for a job, then how does an infor­ma­tional inter­view help me get one?

You’ve prob­ably heard that net­working is the number one way that people find jobs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Sta­tis­tics in 70% of people found their job through net­working. Infor­ma­tional inter­views are just like going to a net­working event in that they are an oppor­tu­nity for you to make a first pro­fes­sional impres­sion and help you get the inside scoop on what could make you a suc­cessful can­di­date (but one-​​on-​​one meet­ings are a lot less intim­i­dating for my fellow shy net­workers out there). That way, when you apply for a job at the com­pany where you did an infor­ma­tional inter­view, they don’t just know you as a one-​​page resume, but they know your face, they know more about your story, and (hope­fully) you made a great impres­sion on them so you’re already ahead of other can­di­dates. Better yet, they may even tell you about jobs in the “hidden job market,” or the ones that are never posted.

Case in point, I was looking to get into career coun­seling, but I didn’t have any expe­ri­ence in the field. I did an infor­ma­tional inter­view with a career coun­selor and asked her if there was any­body else she rec­om­mended I talk to. I fol­lowed her rec­om­men­da­tion and did an infor­ma­tional inter­view with her con­tact. In this second inter­view the very last ques­tion I asked was, “Do you know of any oppor­tu­ni­ties for me to test the waters before I make a long-​​term com­mit­ment to this field?” Yep, in fact she did. Northeastern’s Career Devel­op­ment was looking for interns, so I applied to the posi­tion that I wouldn’t have known about oth­er­wise. And voila, now I’m writing this blog, and the woman that I did an infor­ma­tional inter­view is my super­visor. See, I haven’t been lying to you, this really works!

The Secret Weapon of Job Searching!

Here in Career Devel­op­ment we have gotten a lot of great feed­back from stu­dents and alumni alike that these inter­views have helped develop them­selves as pro­fes­sionals and learn about new oppor­tu­ni­ties. They’re the secret weapon of job searching because often times, people don’t think to do them as part of their search, but they can be oh-​​so-​​powerful. But I hate keeping secrets, so check out Career Development’s resources on how to con­duct infor­ma­tional inter­views, and help me spread the word by sharing your suc­cess sto­ries with us, your friends, and any­body else who is looking for a job! Happy interviewing.

Katie is a Career Devel­op­ment Assis­tant at NU with a back­ground in soci­ology. A teacher at heart, she loves leading workshops–in addi­tion to the career work­shops, she’d gladly teach you how to hula-​​hoop, how to orga­nize your house/​office/​desk, or how mil­len­nials can make great employees. Email her at k.​mccune@​neu.​edu.