Get your informational-interview questions ready.

Did you know that career sites are the most-used source for job searching by candidates? Did you also know that, contrarily, according to a report by Jobvite, referrals are five times more effective than all other sources of hiring? This suggests that job seekers and HR managers aren't on the same page when it comes to the hiring process. It also suggests that job seekers should be focusing on networking as a significant method of finding employment, rather than relying exclusively on job boards.

But how do you network, you ask?

Let's take a look at one of the most underused, but effective, types of networking: the informational interview.

What is an informational interview?

An informational interview is exactly what it sounds like: an information-gathering opportunity that doesn't necessarily lead to a job offer, but can be used as a fantastic source of networking and a chance to learn all about a specific role and/or company. Rather than meeting with a hiring manager as part of the selection process for an advertised role, an informational interview is scheduled between yourself and someone who already holds your dream job or works at your dream company, regardless of if there is a job opportunity available.

The purpose of this type of interview is threefold:

  1. To find out if the role and/or company is the right fit for you

  2. To find out how you can work towards securing this particular role

  3. To make new networking connections

What are the benefits of an informational interview?

There are several benefits to be gained from an informational interview. As mentioned above, it's a great source of networking and therefore could lead to potential job offers in the future. There may not be a vacancy at the time of your interview, but if you make the right impression, no doubt you'll be hearing from the company when the next opportunity opens up.

Networking aside, an informational interview is an invaluable chance to ask all of the questions you might not get to ask in a typical interview setting with a job offer on the table. It's a chance to figure out if the role is something you actually want to do, or if it just sounds good on paper.

And at the very least, it's good interview practice for when the real thing comes around.

How do you schedule an informational interview?

If you don't have any existing contacts in your industry, it may seem daunting trying to find someone to agree to an informational interview. This is where sites like LinkedIn can help. Search for companies within your industry that you would love to work for and then search their employee lists for job titles that align with your interests.

Send a friendly email to your chosen individuals with a short description of who you are, what you do and what you're looking for. You can mention that you're interested in learning more about their company and then ask if they would be interested in meeting with you. You'll be surprised just how many people respond.   

What informational-interview questions should you ask?

The informational interview is your chance to learn as much as you can about a role or company. Therefore, you want to go in there prepared. Spend time compiling a list of targeted informational-interview questions to ask your interviewee before the meeting. Below are a few questions to get you started.

1. How did you get started in this industry?

This is a great question to get the ball rolling and find out the type of career path that may be available to you. Often times, this answer will surprise you.

2. What do you like most about this role?

It's always nice to hear people talk about the things they enjoy most about their job. But more than that, this question will give you great insight into the potential benefits, rewards and perks of the job.

3. What do you like least about this role?

With the good comes the bad and it's important to know what you're in for. Even though people won't always be totally honest when it comes to this question, it's worth asking to hear what the answer is.

4. How do you see this role (or industry) changing over the next 5–10 years?

It's important to know if there's a future for you in this role and learn how the industry might be changing. And who better to hear it from than someone who has first-hand experience?

5. What is the company culture like?

If this company is on your dream list, then make sure you ask about its culture. You could ask about the team structure, office environment and social atmosphere – anything that will help give you an overview of what it would be like if you were an employee.

6. What are the main skills/attributes/experience involved in this kind of role that I would need to succeed?

This question will help you find out where you stand in your current level of experience and learn of anything additional you may need to be qualified for the role. By speaking with someone who is already in the role, you might find out there are certain skills you hadn't thought of that could be major assets.

7. Is there anyone else I should speak to?

Before you leave the interview, be sure to ask for a recommendation for other individuals in the company or industry who can offer support or guidance. This could lead to more networking opportunities and informational interviews down the road.

Final thoughts

Your informational interview will only be as good as you make it. If you do your research, show up prepared, and are serious about learning about the role and company, you never know where it could lead.

Bonus tip: Always remember to send a thank-you note after the interview. It's a simple gesture that will help you leave a great first impression.

Click on the following link for more networking advice.

You've learned about the role and company, but what do you know about your CV? Submit for a free CV critique to get objective feedback and find out how you stack up.

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