Your university career center has probably done a great job of supplying you with all the resources and tools you need to ace a job interview. Myers-Briggs personality test? Check. Career aptitude test? Check. Job interview practice sessions? Check. Business professional wardrobe styling? Very likely, check.
But what your career center may not be telling you how and what to do is a little kept secret in the realm of pre-job, better-than-networking tactics. It’s the informational interview, and here’s why you need to start thinking about penciling them in.
1. You can’t find this stuff online. Information interviews give you the raw details -- the anecdotes, the troughs as well as the peaks, the boring stuff -- that you won’t find in any career reference guide. Even if you interned at your dream job, there’s a pretty good chance that what you were allowed to do during your time there is not actually what you’d be doing in an entry-level gig with that company. Informational interviews -- meeting one-on-one for coffee and questions with someone doing the job you idealize -- are the best way to understand what it’s really like in that role. Essentially, the interview functions as an informal conversation with that person, a mission to extract information versus get a job. Use it to get the nitty gritty on a position that an employer likely wouldn’t share in an interview.
2. Learn about alternative career directions you might not have been aware of. Meet with an electrical engineer, and learn that you’re actually more interested in civil engineering. Talk to an art history professor and discover you’d prefer to actually be creating art than teaching it. Informational interviews can point you in a different direction by advising on what is and isn’t involved in the role.
3. It might actually result in a job. Informational interviews put you front and center -- perhaps not with the decision-maker at an organization, but they’ll keep you in the minds of an influencer. They give great exposure and allow you to make yourself known in the job market. While you may not even see any job listings available within the company, when one is about to open, you may get a phone call before it’s even advertised.
4. It’s great practice. This is your opportunity to experience the next closest thing to a job interview, minus all of the pressure and the nerves. Use the opportunity to practice answering questions about yourself, being mindful of the body language you’re expressing, and monitoring your conversation so you speak in a poised, conversational and positive way. Do your homework, so you’re aware of industry lexicon, trends, news, and who the big influencers are. You want to aim to impress authentically -- here’s a great opportunity to be your best professional self.
5. Gain insider info. More than understanding whether or not the career path is right for you, or what alternative career path you might be better suited for, an informational interview will allow you an opportunity to gain tips, advice, and insider info that you wouldn’t normally receive in a job interview or in research online. You’ll be able to learn about the trends that are shaping your given industry, and how to stay ahead of the curve. Just make sure you ask the right questions.
6. Grow confidence. Let’s face it. Job interviews are nerve-wracking. If things don’t go well, you’ll spend the rest of the month reviewing your every word or gesture to understand why they didn’t choose you, ultimately chalking it all up to your nerves getting the best of you. By asking someone in your dream job, a role model or even potential mentor out on an informational interview, you’re growing confidence in a professional setting that can be parlayed into a job interview. Visualizing yourself having a productive, poised informational interview and then carry that success with you into a job interview.