When Gillian Steele, director of career services at DePaul University, needs to hire in her own department, she thinks about people who’ve interviewed with her, particularly people who’ve sought her out for information about the career counseling profession.
Indeed, experts say that one of the best ways to eventually get a job in an area that you’re interested in is to first land “informational interviews” with a professional in the field.
Basically, with these interviews, career aspirants request a quick chat with a professional. Done right, the career seeker ends up with advice on what additional experience they may need and leads for gaining a foothold in the field.
Here, experts offer pointers on these interviews.
It is easier to get someone to agree to talk if you use a mutual acquaintance to make an introduction, or you cite some personal reference when you request the interview.
“The Internet has made the world smaller,” observes Amanda Haddaway, author of “Destination Real World: Success After Graduation” (CreateSpace 2011). It’s likely that through a networking website, you can find a friend who is connected to someone, she adds.
“I think you should use the site, LinkedIn rather than Facebook, because it’s more professional,” advises Thomas J. Ward Jr., executive director of the Center for Career Development at Adelphi University.
“The magic number of connections to have is fifty,” explains Nicole Williams, LinkedIn corporate director. By establishing fifty or so connections from your email lists and other sources, and then visiting the pages of each of your connections to see the titles of people they are connected with, you will probably find people working in the field you’re aiming for, Williams says.
If you can’t find a source through a mutual connection, check the professional backgrounds of your school‘s alumni, suggest Ward, and you can use that as a way of introducing yourself.
Don’t be afraid to aim for highly placed members of the field, Steele says.
“Most professionals are pretty accessible, but that doesn’t mean everyone [will agree to an interview],” adds Rebecca Emery, director of career services at Salisbury University.
Experts say that to avoid making a source feel put upon, ask for an interview by saying something like, “I only want advice about the profession, not a job, and will need just 15 minutes.”
Making a first contact by email is probably easier and more courteous, says Williams.
“If your first email doesn’t get answered, you should follow-up,” Williams says. “In fact, someone sent me an email for an informational interview recently, and I didn’t see it. She emailed me back again saying, ‘I know you get a lot of emails, but want to reach out again.’ I got back to her and we talked.”
If the source is in the area, request an in-person interview, Williams suggests. Otherwise, phone interviews will be necessary.
You’ll want to keep the interview around 15 minutes. And don’t waste time asking what you can find by looking at the source’s bio or articles that are posted online.
Do ask what the trends are in the field, why he or she got into it and what the specific tasks are, Steele suggests.
“Everyone loves to talk about themselves,” she adds.
Still, you’ll need to talk about yourself, too, perhaps asking if there are any or courses or experience you need to break in, Steele says.
Finally, ask if there any other sources you might be able to speak with that may be helpful, Steele suggests.
Thank you notes are necessary, experts agree. Then, keep in touch whenever something relevant happens, like you’ve talked with one of the other suggested sources.
Keeping in touch allows you to stay in the mind of the source. Sometimes, “they may need to hire, or they hear of an opening, and they might suggest you,” says Steele.
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