Employment Expert Takes the Mystery out of Informational Interviews

 
1.6.14

When you’re supporting a job seeker to find employment, one of the first steps is to learn about the field he or she is interested in. Informational interviews are a great way to do this. These interviews can help your client find a job, and can even help make you a better employment specialist.

“A lot of people don’t understand what it means to set up and perform an informational interview,” says SueAnn Morrow, Ph.D., an employment services specialist for Iowa’s Money Follows the Person project. Most importantly, an informational interview is not the same as a traditional job interview, where a candidate is being evaluated for a possible hire.

Instead, an informational interview is a chance to talk with an employer or someone else who works in a particular field. This interview is an opportunity to ask that person about their career path, their business, or their industry. Both job seekers and employment specialists can benefit from conducting informational interviews.

“Most people like to talk about what they do,” Morrow explains. “So if you’re looking into, say, the communications industry, you research the industry, make a list of your referrals, then contact the person and let them know you’re interested in the industry. This is a good way to use your contacts.”

Morrow notes that it is essential that you do your research and come prepared. The interview should be fairly short, around 15-20 minutes. “Be respectful of people’s time,” she says. “Get that person talking about their industry. How did they get started, what’s it like, how do people succeed.”

Informational interviews are also about making connections that might be helpful at some point. “I stress at some point,” Morrow says. “We often start out looking into the industry, and suddenly it becomes a job development interview. With these interviews, that’s the biggest problem in our field.”

An informational interview is not the place for job development (that is, talking explicitly about potential hiring opportunities). Stay true to the purpose of the interview, Morrow cautions. “Otherwise, that’s a bait-and-switch. [Doing job development] will ruin the interview, but it will also do damage to the relationship, a relationship you want to nurture.”

Informational interviews can often lead in unexpected directions. For example, you might go into an interview focusing on the communications industry, but then learn about other types of careers you didn’t even know existed. “These interviews can really broaden your knowledge of what’s out there, which in turn helps the job seeker broaden their knowledge as well,” Morrow says.

The DirectCourse/College of Employment Services curriculum can help you learn how to set up informational interviews, and how to maximize the experience. Our Business Perspectives course offers specific techniques for reaching out to employers and strengthening your relationship with them. In doing so, you’ll be helping someone to find a great job, and expanding your own capabilities as well.

For more information on the DirectCourse/College of Employment Services curriculum, please visit: http://directcourseonline.com/employmentservices/core-curricu

UPDATE: To watch a brief presentation on the subject, click here!

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