And what is an informational interview? Here's Mark Nichol, editor of the Daily Writing Tips blog, explaining the term:
It’s a meeting with someone in a position, department, company, or profession that intrigues you. You’re not certain whether you are suited for or interested in that career, so you ask someone who knows what working in such an environment involves. (Equally important is what an informational interview is not: It is not a stratagem for finagling an opportunity to ask for a job under the guise of merely obtaining information.)
This seems like something we would do as a matter of course. But do we do it systematically? Do we do it in the manner Nichol prescribes? Ah! There's the rub.
From how to set up an informational interview and what to do if the subject declines to the questions you must ask — Nichol covers all the bases.
Coming to the questions, Nichol makes it clear you must find out what you can through your own research first. Then he provides a dozen questions which, he stresses, you must not just recite: "The interview should be more of a conversation." Sound advice, that.
Here are some of the questions on Nichol's list:
- How do you spend your workday, and what are the weekly, monthly, and yearly cycles, if any, of your workload?
- What is the balance of routine and novelty in your job? Does your work largely follow a set pattern, and does that appeal to you, or is it mostly unpredictable, and do you like that?
- What type of skills and knowledge did you bring to your job, and what have you acquired? What skills or knowledge do you apply most often?
- (Briefly outline your educational/work history.) How would one start out in this profession, and what other coursework or job experience would you recommend or would you consider indispensable?
The most important thing to say, of course, is “Thank you — I appreciate that you took the time and effort to help me in my research” — and to do so again in writing (in a mailed note or postcard, not an email message).
Also, honour your pledge not to exploit the person’s offer to meet with you as a pretence for hinting about employment.
Again, very sound advice. If you are about to begin your job search for the first time, or even if you have a few years' experience and are looking for new options, you will want to read what Mark Nichol has to say about informational interviews: "What is an informational interview?"