Informational Interviews: Teaching Clients Effective Techniques
By Christine Toresdahl
"One out of every two hundred resumes ... results in a job offer. One out of every twelve informational interviews, however, results in a job offer," from A Foot in the Door, by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
Many people agree that informational interviews are one of the most productive job search techniques. Why, then, would any job seeker bypass this valuable tool? Two reasons emerge: (1) the job seeker does not understand the process of informational interviewing, or (2) the job seeker is afraid.
Jefferson County Workforce Center in Colorado has developed a workshop to teach job seekers how to overcome those two barriers in a format that is easy to understand and simple to duplicate.
The workshop begins with a definition of the informational interview, a term first used by Richard Bolles, author of What Color is Your Parachute? An informational interview is conducted to collect information about a job, career field, industry or company. It is not a job interview.
Before lining up interviews, the job seeker must prepare by researching the company or industry. Obvious sources include the public library, business journals and the Internet.
The next step is finding people to interview: names are found during research process or by asking friends, neighbors, former co-workers, other job seekers, or even the gatekeeper at the target company.
I recommend using the telephone to arrange interviews as it is often the most persuasive and time-efficient method of contacting an individual. It is easier to delete an e-mail than to say "no" to a pleasant, friendly professional who wants to know more about your career.
If shyness is an issue, I recommend using a written phone script. There are many excellent phone scripts available in employment books and websites, such as:
"Hello, my name is (NAME). I am working with the Jefferson County Workforce Center to obtain training in (FIELD). Your company really stands out in the industry because (REASON) and I'm looking for information on this field. So I'm wondering if you would have 20 minutes to meet with me to talk about your career?"
A face-to-face meeting in the interviewee's work setting is always preferred so that the job seeker can absorb information about the work setting. If the interviewee does not prefer this, the job seeker should be flexible and adapt to meet his or her request. Once the interview is scheduled, it is time to prepare interview questions, such as:
- Why did you choose this field of work?
- What are your primary responsibilities?
- How would you describe a typical week?
- What parts of the position do you like best? Least?
- What skills are most important to have in this position?
- What kinds of opportunities do you see in this field?
- What kind of training or education would you recommend for this position?
- Can you suggest anyone else that I can talk to? May I use your name?
Simple rules of etiquette help make the interview more successful:
- Dress professionally
- Provide a current resume
- Call the day before to confirm the appointment
- Arrive on time
- Be friendly
- Pay attention
- Show genuine interest
- End on time
- Thank the interviewee
Some sources contend that an electronic thank-you note is the preferred method, but I still recommend a hand-written note because it communicates sincerity with a powerful personal touch. You can provide the job seeker with a sample thank-you note :
I am writing to let you know how much I enjoyed meeting with you on (DAY) and learning more about the field of (FIELD). Through our discussion, I now have a much clearer understanding of the options open to me.
Thank you for your time. I realize that your time is valuable and I appreciate your willingness to share your knowledge and experience with me.
To assist in this process, a reference card may be distributed to clients (see sample Informational Interview Reference Card).
Example of Success
One of our Workforce center customers spent nine months unsuccessfully seeking work through advertised job openings. Finally, he identified his field of interest, researched it, and made appointments for informational interviews as described above. He obtained advice on how to enter the industry using his credentials and experience and was given the names of influential people in the field. During one of his interviews, an employer stated, "We are hiring for a position just like the one you are describing. Would you like to come in for an interview?" Three months after beginning the informational interviewing process, he was employed.
Christine Toresdahl has been working with job seekers and career changers for 25 years in faith-based and non-profit settings. She holds a B.A. in Communications from St. Cloud State University and a Bachelor of Theology from The Way College of Emporia. She is GCDF certified and is enrolled in the Master of Arts in Counseling Program at Regis University. She currently works with the Jefferson County Workforce Center in Golden, Colorado, as a Workforce Specialist, assisting clients with career related issues. You can contact her at (303) 271-4791 or firstname.lastname@example.org