Using Informational Interviews for a Successful Career Transition

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Are you tired of feeling stuck in your current career but unsure of where to go next? Look no further than informational interviews. By connecting with professionals in your desired industry or role, you can gain valuable insights, make meaningful connections, and increase your chances of landing your dream job. This comprehensive guide will show you how to conduct a successful informational interview, from preparation to follow-up. Whether you’re just starting to explore your options or ready to take the next step, this blog has everything you need to make a successful career transition.

Informational interviews are a powerful tool for anyone looking to make a career transition. Finding a new job can be both exciting and intimidating. It’s a big decision. You want to make sure you’re making the right move, especially if this is a mid-life career change. One of the best ways to gather information and get a better understanding of a new job or industry is to conduct informational interviews. 

The purpose of informational interviews is to not only gain insights and advice about the industry or job but also to make connections and expand your network. Why wouldn’t you just go on regular interviews? You certainly can and should. However, sometimes the more informal and relaxed atmosphere of an informational interview yields better results. And, if you aren’t sure whether this is the right field, then you don’t want to waste time or leave a bad impression by going for a job you aren’t quite sure you want. For this reason, informational interviews are an invaluable tool in the process of transitioning to a new career.

Here are the steps on how to use informational interviews well.

Identify your target industry or job 

Before you start reaching out to potential interviewees, it’s important to have a clear understanding of the industry or job you’re interested in transitioning to. Do your research first! This will help you identify the right people to connect with for informational interviews as well as help you ask intelligent questions.

Build your network 

LinkedIn is a great place to start connecting with potential interviewees in your target industry or job. You can also attend industry events, join professional organizations, or reach out to people you already know who work in your target field.

Reach out to potential interviewees

Once you have a list of potential interviewees, reach out to them. Explain that you’re interested in learning more about their career path and the industry or job you’re interested in. Be clear about the fact that you’re not asking for a job. Rather, you’re simply looking for advice and information.

Prepare for the interview

Before the informational interview, take the time to research the person’s background and the company they work for. Prepare a list of questions you want to ask. Focus on their career journey, the skills and experience they gained along the way, and the challenges they faced and overcame.

Always be professional

 During the informational interview, be professional, courteous, and respectful. Dress appropriately, arrive on time, and be prepared to actively listen to their advice and insights. Take notes during the interview, and follow up with a thank you note afterward.

Follow up and continue building your network 

After the informational interview, follow up with the person you spoke with and thank them for their time. Stay in touch with them. Continue to build your network by reaching out to other potential interviewees in your target industry or job.

These informal interviews can provide valuable insights into the industry or job you’re interested in, and can also help you make connections and build your network. By being professional, respectful, and prepared, you’ll increase your chances of having a successful informational interview. This will help move you closer to your goal of transitioning to the new career you desire.

Why are informational interviews often more effective than regular interviews?

Unbiased insights 

When you conduct an informational interview, you’re talking to someone who has no vested interest in whether or not you get the job. This means they’re more likely to give you an honest and unbiased perspective on the industry or job, as well as the skills, training, and experience you need to succeed.

Networking opportunities

Informational interviews are also a great way to make connections and build your network. If you have a positive interaction with the person you’re speaking with, then they may be willing to connect you with other people in their network who can help you in your job search.

Career exploration

You can use an informal interview to gain a better understanding of what a day in the life of the job or industry you’re interested in would be like. This can be helpful in determining whether or not it’s the right fit for you. Of course, we also recommend to our 1-1 coaching clients that they take the Career Change Kit. This helps them to figure out their hidden talents, natural abilities, values, and passions before embarking on a career change.

I generally recommend starting your career exploration with a few informational interviews. They will help you to see if this field or career is actually right for you before going on formal job interviews. 

One coaching client, Sarah, worked in marketing. She was feeling unfulfilled in her job and wanted to explore other career options. She was particularly interested in the field of sustainability and environmentalism. I suggested that she conduct informational interviews to get a sense of what the field was really like and to confirm her interest.

Sarah started by contacting her alma mater’s alumni association to obtain a number of contacts in the field. She then reached out to several of these professionals and set up a series of informational interviews. During the interviews, she asked questions about their career paths. She also asked about the skills and experience they needed to succeed in the industry. Furthermore, she uncovered what a typical day in their job was like.

In one of these interviews, Sarah spoke with an environmental scientist who worked for a non-profit organization. The scientist was impressed with Sarah’s passion for sustainability and her desire to make a positive impact in the world. They offered to introduce her to other people in the industry and even gave her a referral for a job opening at a green technology start-up.

Sarah took the referral, applied for the job, and got the position. She was thrilled to start her new career in sustainability! The informational interviews she conducted were instrumental. They gave her a better understanding of the industry and made her more confident in her decision to pursue a career in sustainability. Plus, it even helped her land a job. Although you must never go into an informational interview expecting a job offer, if you are engaging and personable, then people will want to help you find a suitable position. They may even suggest other people with whom you can speak. In fact, it can’t hurt to ask them at the close of the interview if there is anyone else with whom you should speak.

Informational interviews are a great way to make the transition to a new career a fun and exciting process. By talking to people who are working in the field, you can gain valuable insights, make connections, and may even receive job leads. So, if you’re looking to make a career change, consider reaching out to people in your target industry or job for informational interviews. Again, you might start by asking friends if they know anyone in the field you are interested in and by contacting your alma mater as they often have an alumni database of contacts they can put you in touch with. 

Now, how do you get the most out of informational interviews? 

If you’ve never done this before, then the most important thing to remember is that you are not asking for a job. You are asking for information because you are curious and want to learn more about the field or particular job. You might say that you’re considering making a career transition into this field and would love to learn more. 

Here are some good questions to ask your interviewee:
  • Can you tell me about your career path and how you got to where you are today?
  • What do you like best about your job or industry?
  • What do you find challenging?
  • What skills, education, training, and experience are most important for someone in your job or industry?
  • Can you tell me what a typical day is like?
  • What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a career in your job or industry?
  • Are there any particular companies or organizations in your field that you admire and why?
  • Are there any new developments or trends happening in your field that I should be aware of?

I can’t stress enough that informational interviews are not job interviews. You will be the one asking the questions and it should feel like a normal conversation. You’re not asking for a job. Rather, you are simply looking for advice and information. So, be respectful of the person’s time and make sure to follow up with a handwritten thank you note. I’ve included a template for a thank you note to get you pointed in the right direction below.

Following up after the informational interview.

It is simply good manners to send a thank you note after someone has helped you. Yet, I’m always amazed at how few people take the time to do this. You can send an email, but it would be even better if you sent a letter of thanks or a handwritten note. Short and sweet is fine. 

Thank You Note Template

Dear [Interviewee’s Name],

I wanted to take a moment to thank you for taking the time to meet with me yesterday. Your insights and guidance were truly invaluable. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn from someone with such extensive experience in the [industry/field].

I was particularly impressed by [something specific the interviewee said or shared during the conversation]. It was insightful to hear about [topic discussed]. I appreciate the honesty and openness you showed in sharing your experiences.

Again, I am so grateful for the time you took to meet with me. I will definitely keep in touch as I continue my career journey.

Best regards,

[Your Name]

When writing a thank you note after an informational interview, make sure to:
  • Personalize it: Mention specific details from the conversation and show that you were paying attention and engaged.
  • Express gratitude: Thank the interviewee for their time and insights. Express how much you appreciated the opportunity to learn from them.
  • Keep it short and sweet: The thank you note should be brief, and to the point. So it’s best to stick to one page or less.
  • Follow up: Mention that you plan to keep in touch and continue your relationship, but don’t overdo it. You should certainly let them know if you land a job in the new field when that time comes! 
By following these guidelines, you can send a well-crafted thank-you note that shows your professionalism and appreciation for the interviewee’s time.

So, there you have it! Talking and meeting with professionals in your desired industry or role will help you gain a deeper understanding of the job, as well as what skills and qualities are needed.  By discovering the career path others have taken, you will learn the best way forward. These informal conversations are not only informative but also present an opportunity to build valuable connections and increase your visibility in the industry or field you are interested in pursuing.

You might also enjoy my book, Coach Yourself to a New Career, which is chock full of exercises to help you identify the work you’ll love!

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