When looking to make a career change, there are many ways to learn about a new field. One technique that's highly recommended by Certified Career Advisors but often overlooked, is the informational interview.
The informational interview is a business-casual, yet focused conversation with an industry expert. It’s a great way to collect information, test assumptions, and network with someone in the field. The benefits don’t stop there: there’s so much to gain from a single conversation!
Industry Insider Information
Perhaps online you've read widely about the field. Is what you learned true in practice or just in theory? That's when it's time to go to the source: an industry expert.
Having a conversation with an industry expert is a safe, relaxed way to test assumptions you may have about the field without the stress of a job interview. Plus, most people enjoy speaking about their career and are happy to devote a few minutes to answering your questions about what they do, including their everyday tasks, ways to gain experience, and the certifications, education, skills and experience needed to enter the field.
Conversational Tip: Ask great questions!
Familiarize yourself with the field before your conversation so it will be obvious that you've done your research. Your research will also help you prepare thought provoking questions for your expert. While being prepared is necessary to help the conversation move smoothly, remember to be flexible in the moment and go with the flow.
Having a conversation with someone in your new field is educational, but also presents an opportunity to increase your professional network which will enhance your chances of landing a great job when the time comes.
First, you’ll want to connect with your new contact on LinkedIn after your meeting (or before!) and follow up with them as you have news to share about your progress. Second, you may also want to consider asking your industry expert if they can recommend or introduce you to someone else in the field, to increase your industry knowledge, and of course, your network.
Conversational Tip: Keep it Short
You’ll want to keep your conversation focused and respect your expert's time. Keep your questions concise and wrap up the conversation when you said you would. They will appreciate your discipline and respect for their time.
Make Better Decisions
Gathering industry expert information on your future career field can help ensure that you'll actually enjoy your new career. Information about typical daily tasks, the personality and traits needed to succeed, as well as what it takes to be hired into a position are all valuable and can help you determine if the field is right for you.
You may learn that one segment of the field, environment, or industry is totally wrong for you, while another will be a better fit. Armed with this level of detail, you'll make better decisions when applying for and accepting job offers.
Conversational Tip: Freshen Up your Knowledge
Your informational interview can help you polish your industry knowledge by learning the terms, lingo, and current status of the field. This is not only helpful information for you, it's also a great way to prepare and practice for an interview and help you sound more field-savvy. Additionally, it's a great confidence booster, helping you realize that the field is within reach and that you have the ability to talk the talk!
Unlock the Hidden Job Market
By making a connection to someone in your new field, you're not only learning more and networking, you're also potentially unlocking a hidden job market. The hidden job market are jobs that are never advertised, instead these jobs are filled through word of mouth, recommendations, or firsthand knowledge of the desired candidate.
While you should never approach an informational interview with the expressed purpose of asking for or trying to land a job, keep in mind that simply by making a positive connection with someone in the field you have opened up the possibility that your meeting could lead to a future job offer. Opening one door, often has the consequence of opening many!
Conversational Tip: It’s All About Them
An informational interview is all about the industry expert and the advice, knowledge, and expertise they can offer you about the field. In this way, it differs from traditional networking in that this isn’t a great time to practice your elevator pitch or talk at length about your history.
Instead, use your time wisely to gain answers to your most burning questions. You’ll gain a lot more from the conversation and gain the respect of your industry expert by keeping it concise and asking thought provoking questions that get to the details about the field. As you would with an interview, don’t forget to send them a thank you card!
Informational interviewing is one of the best ways to gain first-hand knowledge of a new career field. Doing so has many benefits, from increasing your professional network, to gaining insider knowledge, and, if you’re lucky, your informational interview may eventually lead to a job offer. Keeping it professional, asking great questions, knowing your industry ahead of time, and respecting their time will help you impress your industry expert and make it more likely that they’ll recommend you to someone else.