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Job Seekers New to the Workforce Should Add Informational Interviewing to Their Arsenal

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Two major components of any job search process are researching specific companies or industries and networking with established professionals in the field. This can be daunting, especially if you're a job seeker just entering the workforce. It's tough to know where to start doing either of those things when you're starting from scratch.

Fortunately, there is one way to combine both of those job search tasks into one powerful tactic, yielding both vital information and networking opportunities. This tactic is commonly referred to as informational interviewing and if done properly, it can get incredible results.

What is informational interviewing and why should you do it?

According to a report from Florida State University, an informational interview is a meeting between an established industry professional and a job seeker looking for information about an industry or company. A person with less experience in a given vocation will be unlikely to know much about what opportunities are out there, but by interviewing someone who has been in the business for awhile, job seekers can gain an insider's perspective on what awaits them as they make their way into the field.

"If you truly impress the person with whom you hold the interview, they may even be willing to pass along your name and information to someone with a job opportunity within their own company."

This is often far more powerful than doing research on your own online because as the one conducting the interview, you can ask questions tailored to your specific needs and interests. Additionally, information found online can be misleading or outdated. By talking to someone in the thick of the action, you can get an up-to-the-moment perspective about what's really out there and what employers are looking for these days.

What could end up being just as valuable as the information is the networking. Asking someone to do an informational interview is a great way to meet and connect with a seasoned veteran of your desired industry. Very often, this person will be able to connect you to other people in the industry. They will also likely know of job openings available either at their own company or at one of their contact's businesses.

If you truly impress the person with whom you hold the interview, they may even be willing to pass along your name and information to someone with a job opportunity within their own company. David Parnell, a communications coach and Forbes contributor put it like this:

"While informational interviews are taken under the guise of 'learning more about the company,' their true purposes are to impress your connection within the company, and to gather intelligence that might help secure a job there," Parnell said.

Knowing why you should conduct an informational interview is one thing. Knowing how to do it well is another. You won't get these potentially lucrative benefits unless you conduct a great interview.

Informational interviewing is a powerful combination of research and networking.

How to conduct a great informational interview

You can't expect to reap the rewards of informational interviewing if you give a bad interview, and given the potential these have, you'll want to do the best you possibly can. Here is a step-by-step process to conduct an informational interview.

  • Reach out to the right people. Ask your family, friends or professors who they know of in your desired field and use that as a starting point. Actually getting someone to agree to an informational interview will be easier if you have a referral through a warm contact. If you can't find a referral, do some research on LinkedIn or your school's alumni network, see who's in your industry or company of interest and reach out to them. Just be sure to tell them exactly how you found them so they aren't put off by the cold contact.
  • Research, research, research. Do your homework and learn as much as you can about your field or a certain company. If you want to impress the person you're interviewing, you'll need to show that you're passionate and prepared.
  • Prepare specific questions. This ties into the last point - you can't ask specific questions if you don't know anything about the industry or company. Don't show up to an informational interview and ask vague, general questions like "What should I do with my career?" No one can realistically give you a good answer for that. The point of an informational interview is to get insight that will help you in your unique situation. Therefore, you need to ask specific questions about what you want to learn.
  • Keep to within the agreed upon interview time. Remember that they're doing you a favor - don't overdo it by making them stick around for longer than they have to.
  • Do NOT ask for a job. You asked for an informational interview. If you pull a bait-and-switch, you can probably forget about them helping you in the future.
  • Follow up. Thank them for their time and show your appreciation for what they've done for you. A powerful way to cement the connection could be to tell them about one thing they said that really stood out to you that you will use. This will show them that you were paying attention and actually getting something out of the interview.