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How To Get the Most Out of Informational Interviews

By Audrey Seymour

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When planning to build a business or career in a new field, informational interviewing is a key part of your initial research. It allows you to get a realistic picture of each possibility that you're considering. As a side benefit, this tool also builds your contact network, a key to future work in whatever field you choose.

Here are the steps to a successful informational interview process:

1. Prepare a list of fields you'd like to research. Prioritize the list by starting with the ones that call to you the most.

2. Prepare your list of questions. What would you like to learn? Although some of your questions will be specific to the fields you are exploring, there are certain ones that are always valuable to ask:

About the work itself:

  • What do you love/dislike most about your work?
  • What training or certification is required and/or recommended?
  • What kind of skills and qualities are necessary to succeed?
  • Are there any other related fields that I should also consider?
  • What resources would you recommend I use to learn more?
  • Is there anyone else that you recommend I talk to?

If you'll be starting a business:

  • How long did it take for your business to become profitable?
  • Where do you find most of your clients?
  • What kind of work schedule is needed to succeed?
  • What income is typical in this field?
  • Is this a growing field, or is it oversaturated?
  • What percentage of your time do you spend on each aspect of your work?

3. For each field of interest, make a short list of individuals or organizations to approach. Three is a great number, depending on how many fields you are exploring. Be creative by asking everyone you know for ideas of who to contact. You can call organizations directly and also use professional associations and directory listings to find leads.

4. Call each lead, introduce yourself and request 15 minutes of their time for an informational interview. If your first contact is by email, let them know you'll be calling within a week to follow up. You'll be surprised at how many people enjoy contributing to their profession in this way.

5. Come prepared to take notes. Whether by phone or in person, just be yourself and enjoy the conversation. The pressure is off because you're not asking for a job or referrals. Even if you do find out about an opportunity, wait until the next day to discuss that in order to maintain clear boundaries. Along the same lines, do not offer your promotional materials or resume unless someone asks, but it's smart to have them handy just in case that happens.

6. Don't forget to write your thanks after each interview the very next day.

7. Review and organize your notes when the process is complete. Complete your review by making a table of pros and cons for each career idea. When you weigh your list of pros and cons, remember that it's not about the length of the lists, because even one "con" can be a show-stopper for you. Or, one "pro" can light your heart up so much that it makes the choice irresistible.

What field(s) can you now cross off your list? Which one(s) seem even more appealing? Add your new ideas and contacts to your files, and you're ready to plan your next step of action.

By using informational interviews you can combine the best of practical research and your heart's calling to make a choice that is financially sound as well as personally fulfilling.

© 2005-2011 Audrey Seymour. All rights reserved.