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Whether you know what career you want to pursue or have no idea, the informational interview is the way to go. It is a perfect way to reach out to people whose jobs or fields you want to know more about, without the stress of a real interview. You are not applying for a specific job, but you are learning about a variety of jobs and companies in general.
When you have reached out to a person as a resource and scheduled time with her, then it is up to you to prepare some meaty questions. In an “advice meeting” like this, your goal is to get the person to like you enough to help you. Your contact might provide information about a particular field, feedback on your skills, or referrals to other contacts.
Here are some tools to navigate this meeting successfully:
Gather Information Before the Meeting. Do your homework first. Why do you want to talk to this person? You don’t have to know everything about them, that’s what the meeting is for, but be sure you know enough to not sound silly!
Use Your Time Wisely. You will only get a short amount of time with your contact, so make sure to use it well. Don’t let there be long pauses, take control of the meeting and keep a lively pace. Be Focused, and Ask Good Questions. Your contact is taking the time to meet with you, so it is important to stay focused on them, acting engaged and energetic. Some sample questions to ask might be: What education, jobs, and experiences got you where you are today? What insights have you gained that you wish you had known when you were my age? What advice can you give me as I set out on this journey?
Keep the Conversation Moving By Asking More Questions. More questions might be: What did you think was most important to know when you started in this field? How did you get started? Is that typical of successful people in this field? What has been the most satisfying part of your role? What has been most stressful? What have you learned about the industry that surprises you? As you look back, what do you think are the most important qualities for someone in this field? What other companies do you respect that offer similar positions?
Give Back. Get in touch with your contact in a real way; maybe talk about music or books for a bit to draw out how you might serve her. Look for ways to show that you too can help your contact, not just how she can help you. It’s a two way street after all!
Adapted from "Your Dream Job Game Plan" by Molly Fletcher, JIST Works.