Networking: Preparing for the Informational Interview
Once you have landed the informational interview, it’s time to prepare to make the most of it in your job search.
Our last post focused on using personal and professional networking to set up informational interviews.
If you’ve secured an informational interview, congratulations! Now you need to prepare so you can make the most of this valuable contact. Remember, this informational interview is a tremendous opportunity to develop specific technical communication industry knowledge, build relationships with key industry experts, and acquire key information on types of jobs, salary, key locations and companies that are hiring.
If you haven’t already done so, finalize the details of the format—telephone, online or in-person—with your contact when confirming the date and time. Think about whether you would like to record the interview (using a tape recorder or your smart phone) to ensure you have a way to check back on your notes. If you want to record, you must be sure to ask your contact for permission to record, keeping in mind that some people are very uncomfortable with recording. If you are meeting in person, pick somewhere quiet where you can hear each other, and can take notes without distractions. If you have planned for your conversation to occur over the phone or online via Skype or Google + Hangout , check out the sound levels in advance, and consider using headphones to help with sound quality. You can always move where you are seated if the area is too loud.
Do some research on the person who you are meeting with. The technical communications field is relatively small, so reach out to a couple of contacts to find out if they know this person and can offer background on their personality, job history, projects they have worked on, and work ethic. Use Google and LinkedIn to assist in your research. Find out they are members of professional associations such as the STC , or if they have spoken at or attended industry conferences (such as LavaCon or WritersUA ). Having this kind of background prior to the informational interview gives you the opportunity to create common ground, and break the ice. For example, if you attended LavaCon last year and know they also went, you can ask them who their favorite speaker or their opinion on the trends that were discussed.
Before undertaking any worthwhile activity, you need to set objectives, and the informational interview is no different. Ask yourself a basic question: Why are you having this conversation with this person? Set a simple and direct objective for what you want to achieve in the course of the conversation. For example, if you are a technical writer looking to move into the training field and you are speaking to a technical trainer on their background and current duties, you could set your objective: “To develop an in depth understanding of a technical trainers written and unwritten roles and responsibilities.”
You have a lot of questions for this person, and you want to make the most of the time you have. So it’s useful to group those questions into three types:
- Job Specific: These are the basic questions, who do they work for, their role; what their responsibilities are; what a typical day looks like; key challenges; types of services the organization provides; and types of projects they get involved with.
- Industry Specific: Delve into the industry. who the major companies in this industry are; what do you think their strengths and weakness are, trends in the industry; and how the industry has changed since they started.
- Experience: questions on their unique perspective. Why they enjoy their role; How long they have been working in the industry in this role; how they secured their current role; qualifications needed to perform this role; specific any skills, knowledge, or degree they believe professionals in this role should have; recommendations for continuing education; and the career path for this role.
Make sure to include one or to wrap-up questions such as recommendations on other people to speak with, books to read, or websites to visit. Be conscience of the amount of time you have and front load your questions to ensure you don’t miss out on the key question you wanted asked. Think about the best way to capture the answers to the questions. One suggestion is to create a template such as an MS Word document with a table listing the questions on one side and blanks on the other.
The day before your informational interview, reach out to your contact either by phone or email to confirm your informational interview with all the essentials: time, date, and location, plus your contact details in case they are running late, have gotten lost, or have something come up at the last minute and are unable to make it.
Before you leave for your interview (or head over to the computer):
- Make sure you have your questions (print them out , or have the document open for you to fill in answers)
- Dress appropriately (even if the conversation is online you can still be seen).
- Test your technology
- Have a map, directions or GPS along with parking information.
Showtime: the Informational Interview
You’ve prepared your questions, confirmed the details, and brought along the tools to capture answers. Now you ready for the actual informational interview part of your networking job search. finally If you are meeting your interviewee in person, make sure you get there earlier than the scheduled appointment, set up the table for taking notes and recording the conversation (if you have confirmed that the interview can be recorded) When your contact arrives greet them and engage in a short bit of small talk to make you both feel at ease. Thank the individual for their time and outline what you are looking to achieve through this conversation (your objective). Start asking your questions and remember to capture your contact’s answers. Most conversations won’t flow according to the order of your questions, so be flexible in the order of your questions. As long as you are able to ask your key questions the order doesn’t matter. Remember the time! Be conscience of your contact’s time, and make sure you wrap up questions in enough time. Thank your contact again as you finish up your conversation.
Follow up the next day with a thank you email or physical note. Personalize the communication by including a point you that intrigued you. If you agreed to any kind of action items, make sure you complete them. It reinforces your image as a professional individual. With each informational interview you will gain more data that help refine your job search and expand your network. Set a target on the number of informational interviews you would like to undertake a month. By following the structure outlined above you will be able to gather enough information and contacts to assist in your job search or transition into a new job. Good luck!
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