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Gain Career Insight With Informational Interviews

Try asking your home assistant: “Alexa, I hate my job. What else can I do to have better work-life balance and make more money?” Or: “OK Google, tell me which employer just can’t live without my sparkly personality and stellar experience?”

How great would it be if you could simply summon up your next job? At least for the foreseeable future, some things, like career advancement, can’t just be beckoned with a command. While you can submit your resume online for the job of your dreams and hope to be called for an interview the next day, rarely is the job search process that quick or smooth.

It might seem counterintuitive, but sometimes the fastest way to obtain your best-fitting next job isn’t to go for it directly. Instead, you may profit more in the long term by slowing down and doing several informational interviews, whether you are just starting your career, looking for advancement or interested in switching career paths altogether.

The Step-by-Step Guide to Career Success

What is an informational interview?

These exchanges are not job interviews. Informational interviews are opportunities for you to learn from people who are already in the field or company you want to know more about and possibly enter. They can provide knowledge you can use to improve the quality of your job hunt.

Consider two key benefits of this method before you apply to any job. The first is to prevent yourself from jumping from the frying pan into the fire. You might hate what you are doing or your current company or industry. It is easy to fantasize about how things would be so much better elsewhere. But the grass isn’t always greener, and it is wise to find out what the conditions are like in a different environment before you commit to it.

The second is to learn what skills are particularly valued by potential employers. As you speak with people, you will be able to ferret out what it is that hiring managers are looking for and then feature those qualities and job skills on your resume, cover letter and in interviews.[

See: 8 Careers for Creative People. ]

How to Ask for an Informational Interview

When approaching someone for his or her time, ask for about 15 or 20 minutes. And then stick to it! If you are fortunate enough to be invited into someone’s office for an informational interview, it is critical that you respect his or her boundaries and appreciate that he or she is offering you valuable expertise and insight.

Remember that you are asking for information, not a job. Be true to your word, and no matter what your counterpart may say about his or her company, don’t ask for help securing a position there. However, if there are openings at the company and the person thinks you might be a good fit, don’t be surprised if he or she asks you: “How about interviewing to come to work here?”

As the time winds down, don’t drag things out or just keep talking. Prepare to leave. It is entirely up to the person granting you the interview whether to offer to keep the conversation going.

[See: 10 Tech Jobs That Make the Most Money. ]

Questions to Ask in an Informational Interview

It’s important to craft thoughtful informational interview questions, such as:

  • Can you tell me about your career path? I’m interested to hear how you and others in your department got to where you are today.
  • I think that I’d like to go from my current role to become a

[insert your desired role]

. But, of course, I’d like to learn more before making that jump. Can you tell me what it is like to do that work daily? Tell me more about your company and the role your group plays. How do you interact with other departments within the company? What kind of challenges does your industry currently face, and how do you think things will shake out in the next five to 10 years?

Be certain to leave time at the end for this most important closing question: “I really appreciate the time that you’ve given to me today, and I’m more interested than ever in making this transition. Can you suggest a few other people with whom you think I should speak?”

[See: 16 Low-Stress Jobs. ]

Alternatively: “I see on LinkedIn that you are connected to A and B. Do you know them well enough to give them a call and ask that they, too, make some time in their schedules for me?” Ideally, you want your contact to reach out to his or her contacts directly on your behalf, but at a minimum, you want to be able to say to your next target’s gatekeeper, “X suggested that I speak with Y and I’m calling to follow up on that.”

While engaging in information interviewing may seem like an unnecessary step before applying for jobs, you’ll find that you’ll be better armed for your “real” interviews and will likely avoid some critical mistakes if you take the time to learn before you leap.

Happy hunting!

Arnie Fertig, Contributor

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