What is Informational Interviewing?

So you’re a Northeastern student, full of vim and vigor and enthusiasm for the future. You’ve got classes and co-ops under your belt, and you feel prepared for the working world. But if you’re like most students, you haven’t discovered one of the most potent secrets of career success. What is this magical secret, you wonder? It’s a little something called “informational interviewing.”

What is Informational Interviewing?

It’s only the most useful career-building tool you’ll encounter. The basic gist is that you will reach out to professionals in the industry and set up interviews with them. Instead of the interviews you’re used to, YOU will be the one asking the questions! It’s the best way to network and gain insider industry knowledge at the same time! And your mom thought you were useless at multitasking! Oh how wrong she was.

The Power of Asking

There are two secrets why informational interviews work:

  • People love to talk about themselves.
  • People love to help college students.

At first, I was skeptical. Who would take time out from their busy schedule to shoot the breeze with a bumbling college student who barely knows what to do with her life after graduation? I reached out to professionals at ten different companies, expecting to bug them a week later in an attempt to set up two or three meetings if I was lucky. Au contraire! To my surprise, almost everyone replied immediately! And they wanted to help me! And all I had to do was ask. Many have referred to this as the Ben Franklin effect (see here).

You’ve probably heard this statistic before: 80% of job openings are unlisted, and are filled through word of mouth. With those kinds of odds, how can you afford not to network? Informational interviewing is a great way to start!

How Do I Answer This: Tell me about a time you failed.

help me

Ahh, the good old’ behavioral interview question, the key to mastering interview prep is understanding why they’re asking you that particular question. What is the employer trying to get at exactly? If you keep that in mind, you can usually come up with a much better, more impressive answer. In this case, the employer doesn’t really care that you failed (everyone screws up sometimes), but rather how do you handle things when they don’t work out. They’re also confirming self-awareness, the ability to be humble and a little bit of your problem solving abilities here.

Like all behavioral interview questions, employ the STAR method to keep your answers concise. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. Also, don’t spent too much time on the failure as much as you do on the reflection of why you think you failed and what learned/would do different next time. That’s really the important stuff the employer wants to know. Finally, try and pick an example that is professionally related, whether that is an example from co-op or an internship or even your part-time job. It tends to resonate more with the employer than a classroom example.

Example: A recent example is at my last co-op I was tasked with increasing out social media engagement by 7% across multiple platforms. To do this I brainstormed and implemented some really creative, out-of-the-box social media campaigns. To my disappointment, only one of the three really caught on and as a result I was three points shy of my 7% goal. My tendency is to dive right into projects, but what I learned from that experience is I should have spent a little bit more time researching our customer base and audience. I think a few relatively minor tweaks to the less successful campaigns would have really made a difference. I was sure to communicate this to my successor and had good, constructive conversation with my supervisor about this at my review. Looking back, it was a great learning experience for me as a young professional.

Kelly is Assistant Director of Career Development and Social Media Outreach. She is also the “blog master” for The Works. A self-proclaimed social media enthusiast and Gen Y, she likes experimenting with new technology to help clients define their personal online brand. Kelly graduated from Northeastern University (Go Huskies!) with a BA in communication studies and a MS in college student development and counseling. Tweet her @kellydscott4.

How Do I Answer This: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

dont know what i'm doing

“Uhh, good question”: A great way to buy yourself a second to organize your thoughts, not so great when you actually don’t know the answer to the interview question. Every Thursday, throughout the summer we’ll tackle a hard-to-answer interview question as part of our Summer Interview Crash Course series on the blog.

This week’s question:  Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

“Um, working here?” Well, yes and no. This question is really trying to gauge how much you’ve thought about how this job will align with your long term goals. It should also speak to your professional ambition as well as your ability to think about both the short and long-term. Even if you picture yourself running your own business or perhaps in the interviewer’s shoes, you can’t really say those things out loud. I’d still suggest being honest about your ambition, but focus it more on how this position would support your long term goals. You can keep you answers relatively general, but be prepared if they decide to push for more details.

Example: Eventually I would love to be leading my own sales team. Based on my research and from talking to others in the industry, *name of company* really invests in the career growth of their employees and many people who start off in this position eventually move into a more managerial role.

You could then ask the interviewer to expand on the career trajectory of this role, but it is likely that they will take the lead and agree with you and tell you some success stories.

Kelly is Assistant Director of Career Development and Social Media Outreach. She is also the “blog master” for The Works. A self-proclaimed social media enthusiast and Gen Y, she likes experimenting with new technology to help clients define their personal online brand. Kelly graduated from Northeastern University (Go Huskies!) with a BA in communication studies and a MS in college student development and counseling. Tweet her @kellydscott4.