The “Other” Interview
We all know the agony that is the common job interview, we are thrown into new and often strange environments where strange people come together and bloviate, criticize, or judge your accomplishments without understanding all the facts or really getting to know what you’re made of. Alright, that’s a bit of an embellishment, but we all know the feeling of being on the other side of the interview table, it is a humbling and often powerless feeling.
But not all interviews are like the above scenario. Many interviews are generous opportunities to share ideas and learn/educate yourself and others about your own potential.
Within our means is another type of interview that I can honestly say is rarely utilized in hiring; the informational interview. Informational Interviews are a simple yet effective way for job seekers to gain real world insight into a career or role of great interest to them, before being put on the spot in the actual job application process.
So what is an informational interview? Quite simply, it is a planned, somewhat formal discussion with a manager or a team member who works within a role, industry or business unit that you potentially see yourself in. It is an open forum to safely learn if the job would be to your liking, if the responsibilities fall within your skill level and if the day to day work would prove challenging or stimulating. It can be within your own company or externally, though folks are likely to give you their time if you are internally connected (or share mutual friends or acquaintances). Here, once again, good networking comes into play. They are nothing more than an organized conversation between two peers, a sharing or download of knowledge if you will, but in a professional, respectful setting. There is more structure than you would get at say, a casual networking event, and the person you will be speaking to often represents not only themselves but the organizations they work with. Digging for ‘dirt’ or gossip is highly inappropriate in this forum, after all, we now have glassdoor for that!
Typically, informational interviews prove most effective when you are looking to make a change – either into a new type of position or into a new industry. Occasionally they are useful when perusing a role you currently hold in a different company, but more often than not it is for someone facing a career change of some sort.
So how do you go about planning your informational interview spree? Simple, assemble a list of either internal employees within your own company, or use a site like Linkedin to target people in your geographic area that represent the industry or role you are targeting. Typically, it should not be a direct manager or someone with whom you are familiar with, but that is an exception and not a rule. You should be comfortable enough within your own circles of management to be able to have open discussions about future career paths, but realistically this is not always the case.
Once you have assembled your target list, quietly reach out and request a few moments of your time, being clear that you are looking for a better understanding of their career demands as you are interested in pursuing a similar path. Be honest with your inquiries and let people know you are purely interested in an informational session, and establish a time limit – say 30 minutes – and stick to it. Then, if they are willing, be sure to come to the interview prepared with good questions, be well aware of their time investment, and refuse any attempts to sell yourself in this forum. Do, however, keep in mind that you are actively networking so be as professional and respectful as possible, the rest should happen naturally. If the person you are speaking with is impressed with your presentation and demeanor, they will reach out at a later date and follow through with any potential opportunities that may exist. Use this time to explore and learn, and leverage the wisdom of another who is currently living the job you may work towards securing in the very near future.
And also like a job interview, follow up, thank the person post discussion and keep them involved with your progress. Remember to be nonjudgmental or critical and appreciate the time someone sacrificed for a colleague and or a stranger. Not everyone you ask will be open to the idea, but generally those who are willing to help others provide the best information and have a genuine interest in seeing others succeed.
Monster.com offers a number of great tips on the informational interview that you can readhere. Of particular note: ask for names of others who may be helpful, show genuine interest, and set an agenda to keep the meeting on track.
So start the wheels in motion and think about who you are and where you would like to be. Start working on the contact lists and the questions you would like answered and begin to think clearly about the next steps you will be taking to further your career. Often times structuring your career goals around discussions such as these help clarify and set a clear path for you to follow.
And remember, if you find yourself longing for a new career or position in IT, remember that Market Street Talent is here for you to assist throughout your job search process. From informational interviewing to salary negotiation, we cover it all and can help you get the job you were meant to have. #MSTgetsIT