Note from Joyce: A reader asked “How do you find out about a potential job environment when you don’t know anyone who works there?” That’s a time to tap your network, find someone who knows someone who does work there and go on an informational interview. Here are some tips to make that happen and what to do once you’ve made contact.
LEARN ABOUT AN ORGANIZATION THROUGH AN INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEW
When you identify an organization that sounds appealing, try a technique called the “informational interview.” It means literally…you interview to find out more about the opportunity and if it would be a good career fit or not. Find a person in an organization (dept.) where you’d like to work and ask specific questions about the work and employment there. One of the best ways to get an info interview is through third party referrals. Reach out to your network and see if someone knows a person who works at that organization or in that dept. and can arrange an info interview for you. This can also be done by researching recent articles written by someone in that org., or looking the company up online or in Moody’s or Vault.com or asking in various circles where you travel or through organizations where you belong. See if articles were posted by someone from that company on a local blog or online newspaper. Follow up with them via a reply email or call them. Due to time constraints, you may need to conduct the info interview on the phone or online if visiting the site isn’t feasible.
If you get to interview someone on site, check out the environment, type of person you meet in the lobby and elevators, level of friendliness, style of clothing people wear. This is a good way to informally learn about the culture, the actual job, and if it really may be a good career fit.
Use the dozen questions below as a guide for what to ask at an informational interview. Scan them and find several questions that feel right for you to launch the conversation.
Describe a typical day on the job.
Tell me the most important necessary skills in this department.
What traits, qualities and characteristics are most valued here? (EX: team player, tech savvy, independence, outgoing, creative, quick decision maker, etc.).
What do the most successful people here do consistently?
Describe methods employed to accomplish your work.
Are there particularly busy times of the day, week or year or is work steady throughout?
Describe the work ethic in this department?
Would you consider this department more laid back, intense or somewhere in between?
What are your regular challenges? Frustrations?
What reading, if any, is important to stay current in this line of work?
If you knew when you began what you know now, would you still work here? Why/why not?
If I have more questions, who else might I talk with who is knowledgeable like you? (great question because you get to expand your network at the same time).
Don’t overstay your welcome. Establish up front you’ll be there for 20 to 30 minutes max. When your time limit is approaching, wind down the visit and ask to stay in touch with the individual on line or by phone. Thank them; get his or her phone/email address. If it feels appropriate, send a follow up thank you note.