Why you should conduct informational interviews

An informational interview has a number of benefits for the average job seeker, such as access to industry insiders, networking opportunities and career research.

If it's been a few years since you last searched for a new job, you may be surprised by how much the landscape has changed. These days, employers get so many applications for every open position that they often eliminate large swaths of candidates almost immediately.

Robert Meier, president of Job Market Experts, said that roughly 98 percent of job candidates get eliminated at the initial round of resume screening. Those are hard odds to beat - unless you have a secret weapon at your disposal.

An informational interview has a number of benefits for the average job seeker, such as access to industry insiders, networking opportunities and career research.

What is an informational interview?

An informational interview is just that: a chat between two professionals about career opportunities, industry trends or a specific job-related topic. Before job seekers attempt to book one, however, they should set their expectations for what they wish to achieve.

An informational interview likely won't lead to a job offer. It can, but those instances are few and far between. Rather, the goal of these chats is to glean new information about the industry landscape, make a new professional connection or help the candidates determine if they're truly interested in a specific opportunity.

"The majority of our conversations at Beacon Hill National Security could be labeled as informational interviews, as we are always trying to take a proactive approach to our team-building strategy," explains Mike Boyles, Division Manager of Beacon Hill's National Security Division. "We find this approach beneficial because it allows us the opportunity to have a discussion with highly qualified individuals in a less intimidating climate. It is during these conversations, that we find out more about what it is that the individual is looking to do, both short term and long term. It allows us to then sharpen our pencils and narrow in on roles that may be of interest to the person."

How will an informational interview boost the job search process?

In his best-selling book 'What Color is Your Parachute?' career coach Richard Nelson Bolles encouraged his readers to try informational interviews as a way to determine their dream jobs. Often, job seekers fixate on a particular position because it seems like the next logical career step, pays a lot or carries some prestige. However, these qualities won't necessarily translate into a fulfilling career.

By sitting down with someone who currently occupies the kind of role you'd like to possess, you can gain first-hand knowledge of what the job is like. This step is important, as the insight gained from such an interview can help you decide if your dream job is everything you thought it was. In other words, it's a reality check.

"I am a huge proponent of the informational interview – you never know what might come out of it," says Vanessa Keenan, Recruiting Manager for Beacon Hill's Technologies Division in Philadelphia. "I actually landed my position at Beacon Hill by way of an informal interview. Several years before I came to Beacon Hill I connected with my current boss on LinkedIn. We met up for coffee and 'talked shop' for a bit and kept in touch. About three years later when he came to Beacon Hill he remembered me and reached out about a role here. I have now been at Beacon Hill for over seven years and am so glad that I had that informal interview 10 years ago."

For job seekers making a career change, an informational interview is a great way to learn how your skills will transfer to a new industry. By speaking with an industry insider, you can discover how your soft and technical skills translate outside of the environment in which they were developed.

Informational interviews can be informal and friendly.

Who should you interview?

An informational interview can be beneficial at any stage of the job search. At the beginning of the process, an interview can help you determine if you've missed any interesting avenues of employment. Perhaps you've been fixated on one type of position when a much more exciting position has eluded your search efforts.

To get the most use out of your interviews, find professionals who currently occupy a position similar to the one you want. If it's your dream to be a data scientist, interview professionals with coding backgrounds. The job title doesn't have to match your dream job exactly. In fact, the person you interview may know someone else you can talk with. You'll gain fresh insights into the job market and grow your professional network at the same time.

"Informational interviews are helpful not only to the candidate but to the client as well," notes Kendall Smardzewski, Division Director of Beacon Hill's Legal Division in Washington, D.C. "Most innovative organizations want to grow organically and be responsive to changes within their industry. As such, it's helpful for them to gather market intelligence and 'see what is out there' in terms of a candidate pool so they can maximize the potential of a new position. A candidate's perspective and background can help draft, even alter a job description before the position exists, putting that candidate in a prime position with the organization."

How do you get someone to agree to an interview?

The best way to secure an informational interview is to ask. There's no trick to it - and you should always be honest about your intentions. Forbes magazine suggested using sites such as LinkedIn to find professionals who work for the companies that you are most interested in. Prepare a brief speech asking for 15 or 20 minutes of his or her time, and explain why you're interested in setting up an informational interview.

Another way to jumpstart your job search is to speak with a professional recruiter. 

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