Remember when getting a job meant circling a want ad in the newspaper and then showing up to said job with resume in hand? Have you attempted to obtain temporary employment lately? Gone are the days when you could show up at an agency at 9 am and be working by 10 am.
Honestly, if you’re reading this, you’re probably too young to remember those days, but they did exist… really!
When Richard Nelson Bolles wrote What Color is Your Parachute? and introduced the idea of the informational interview, I don’t think any of us foresaw “trying on jobs to see if they fit being a staple in the process of obtaining a new job. Yet, here we are.
The more well-known attributes of an informational interview are the tidbits of information you get that help you figure out if the grass really is greener on the other side. Most people only think of using an informational interview as a last resort or when they’re trying to change careers, mainly because you can obtain a lot of information that you can’t get on a regular interview.
But you can also get so much more from them.
Why You Want That Information to Begin With
Let’s take a look at that grass that’s supposedly greener for a minute.
If you are in marketing at Google, it’s probably a good idea to talk to a few people at Yahoo! or Facebook before deciding to make a move. Why? Well, when you change jobs, you become the low man on the totem pole and you have to prove yourself to a whole new set of people. Why do that when you’re not even sure this new company will be the right environment for you? And with the changing economy, “last in, first out” is always in the back of your mind.
When making a career change, an informational interview helps you understand if you really need that additional certification or training you think you need. For women, this step is especially helpful because we have a bad habit of thinking we won’t be ready until we take one more class, get one more certification or earn that pesky advanced degree we’ve been considering. By speaking with someone already in the industry, you can figure out if you’re on track or throwing up unnecessary roadblocks.
While you may not need an advanced degree, you may find out you’re lacking a specific skill that could be helpful to you. Understanding where you may have a few deficiencies will help you as you prepare for your new career or look to achieve job growth and advancement in your current organization. If leadership skills are critical to advancement but you haven’t had the opportunity to lead a project or a team, now would be the time to step up.
An informational interview may also help you determine if there is a barrier to entry in a new career that you didn’t know existed. For example, if you’re a lawyer who decides to switch from civil litigation to intellectual property law, the odds of that happening are slim because you will usually need to have some sort of technical degree and experience in that particular type of law. Just being a lawyer isn’t enough. Same thing with becoming a school principal — you might think all you need to do is have experience as a teacher combined with some school administration experience, not realizing that most school principals have a doctorate degree.
Some positions require a certain number of years or tenure within an industry and no matter how advanced your degree is, you won’t cut it without that specific on-the-job experience. These are all great things to know prior to making the decision to change careers.
The Less Obvious (But Very Real) Benefits
While the above benefits of an informational interview are good to know, what is truly helpful are some of the lesser-known attributes.
Want to know if your colleague really is making six figures in her new job? Can’t figure out how she obtained that position? Or maybe she’s always mentioning the great advice she received from someone in the industry and you just can’t figure out how she did it. The answer to all three may be in the informational interviews she conducted.
With regard to true salary, Glassdoor.com is a great tool for obtaining information about salaries within a company, but when you’re on an informational interview, the person you’re interviewing can provide you with insight that can’t be found elsewhere. You just have to ask the right question and then listen to what they say, as well as to what they don’t say.
You might ask, “I have heard that salaries for X position at your competitor are a little higher than here. Have you found that to be true?” You could also ask, “It’s my understanding that salaries here are a little below the industry standard because this is such a great company to work for. In your opinion, is that accurate?”
If you do this correctly and ask all the right questions, you may find that you and the person you’re interviewing are building great rapport. If that happens, they may decide to inform you of a job opening they know of which hasn’t been advertised yet. They may ask if you’re interested and offer to forward your resume on to the appropriate party. Everyone secretly hopes for this opportunity, but it doesn’t always happen and you should never push for it. However, when it does, jump on it.
Another benefit of the informational interview is your opportunity to obtain a mentor. If you build good rapport and find your target to be a credible and helpful person, you can ask if they would be okay with you occasionally checking in with them for advice as you advance in your career. If they already took the time to spend 30-60 minutes meeting with you, there is a good chance they will be willing to do it on a more frequent basis.
For more advice on how to request an informational interview, feel free to contact us.