Why hold an information interview?
Information interviews put you in the driving seat. You ask the questions, the reverse of a recruitment interview. They are useful if you:
- need information to help you decide about a particular career direction
- have found a job to apply for, but need some insight into the work and employer before you can make a convincing application
- have an interview coming up and need more to know more about the employer.
- Look at your networks - direct personal contacts within organisations are always best. Is there someone who could help you access the information you want?
- University careers services or alumni offices sometimes keep lists of contacts willing to talk about their jobs
- Professional bodies may help find a contact, or may hold local social events where you could meet potential leads to the information you seek.
Do this informally via email or telephone if you know the person already. Use a formal letter if you have been given the name by a third party.
Introduce yourself and either enclose a CV or describe your background briefly in your letter. Explain the purpose of the information interview. For example, say that you would be grateful if they could spare a little time to talk to you about their occupation and/or employer to help you decide on your next career move. Ask if they can refer you to someone else who may be more appropriate if they are unable to help.
It is essential that you do not waste the contact's time - so be fully prepared with the questions that are most important to you. Don't ask questions that you could answer from other sources. Research the occupation or employer by looking at websites, annual reports and other published material.
Prioritise your questions so you cover the most important before time runs out.
- Prepare a script (look at the questions below for ideas) but be flexible and react to your interviewee's answers
- If a career obstacle is mentioned, ask how it can be overcome
- Ask for elaboration if something isn't clear to you
- Listen to the advice given and act on it
- Ask for more referrals to continue your research. Get specific names and titles and ask if you can use your contact's name when setting up the meeting
- Thank your contact during and after the meeting (in writing or by email) for their valuable time and keep them up to date with your progress. You never know when they may hear of an opening
- Be willing to return the favour in the future. The key to successful networking is helping others in return.
Only you know what information you need to fill the gaps in your knowledge, but here are a few ideas. You could also look at recruitment interview questions.
Finding out about the organisational culture and the role
- Describe a typical day. Do the days vary?
- What attracted you to the job/career?
- Describe the most rewarding aspects of the job?
- What do you like most/least?
- Do you feel that your work is recognised individually or as part of a team effort?
- How would you describe the working environment, eg culture/resources/hours?
- Is there anything you would change about the job/employer?
- What was the recruitment process for your job?
- Has the job changed since you started?
- What are the challenges of the job?
- How much control do you have over the direction of your work? Short term/long term?
- What are the possibilities for further training/development?
- What skills do you have that make you good at this job/do you use a lot in this job?
- What facilities are available to help people with work/life balance? (eg childcare, flexible hours)
- What rewards can I expect? (eg salary/personal recognition/fulfilment). Are salaries comparable with other similar organisations?
Finding out about getting into this particular field
These questions are more general and the answers potentially more beneficial to you. They could take you to areas you hadn't considered or known about previously.
- How does my background fit with opportunities in this area? Which skills or experiences should I emphasise?
- What advice would you give me for an effective job search? What techniques worked for you?
- Where are vacancies advertised? Are there particular agencies I could sign up with?
- What fields are going to develop in the future? Are there areas that are going to lead to fewer opportunities?
- Would you be willing to give feedback on my CV?
- Could you suggest who might have positions I could apply for?
Do you know of anyone else who might have advice for me?
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