Job-Hunting: Information Interviews - Get The Inside Track

In Canada, the competition for jobs has grown a great deal in recent years and will continue to do so, as more people graduate from Canadian universities and more immigrants arrive and enter the Canadian workplace. In order to improve your chances of finding employment in your chosen field, you must have the same tools as the competition. One of the most overlooked, yet powerful pieces in the work search toolkit is the information interview.

In addition to giving you information about a career that you will not find anywhere else, the information interview allows you opportunities to:

  • get first-hand information on current trends and forecasts from an “insider”
  • plot your career path,
  • discover other possibilities you didn’t know existed,
  • improve your English communication skills,
  • meet potential employers when you are at your best,
  • build your confidence,
  • and most importantly – network.

Simply put, the information interview is a meeting between you and someone who is already working in a field or position similar to the one in which you are interested in working.

Preparation is the key to a successful information interview. Start with research. Make a list of the potential companies where you might be able to work or places you have heard about. Directories found in libraries [and on the internet] are a useful tool for getting this information. Once you have made your list, target one or two organizations and do more in-depth research. The more you know about the company and what they do, the more intelligent questions you can ask during the interview. You may need to call the office to come up with the names of the people you can talk to. If you are researching a career as a job developer, for example, then you would simply ask the receptionist for the name of a job developer who works there. Once you have a name and a phone number, you are ready to take the next step.

When you get in touch with the person, start off by introducing yourself and stating the purpose of your call. Tell them what you are doing. Explain that you would like only about 15 – 20 minutes of their time. Bring a copy of your résumé, but be very clear that you are not asking them for a job. Never use the information interview as a sneaky way to get into the organization to ask about a “job”. Most people will be happy to share their knowledge and insight with you.

Set a date, time and a location for the meeting and make sure you write the information down. Keep well-organized records of your informational interviewing process. Make a good first impression. How you dress, sit, shake hands, smile and maintain eye-contact, will speak volumes about who you are, your seriousness and the potential employee you will be. Being well-prepared and courteous, sticking to the schedule and respecting the time limit are all very important.

What Kind Of Questions Should You Ask?
Ask yourself what kind of information you are trying to get by asking each question. What do you need or want to know that will help you decide if this is the right career or organization you want to work for? By asking the questions, you are learning how to be in control of a discussion, an opportunity you will not have in a job interview!

Pay attention to everything that is going on around you. You can learn a great deal about the work environment before the interview even starts. Is it calm and quiet, or busy and disorganized? How do people communicate with one another? Are they smiling? Are phones ringing all around you?

Here are some useful topics to discuss when the interview begins – no matter what field you are exploring:

What is the work like?

  • Could you describe a typical workday for me?
  • What skills are required in your position?
  • What parts of your job do you find the most challenging?
  • What motivates you? • What do you like least about your job?

What is the condition of this industry?

  • Is this field growing?
  • Where do you see growth happening?
  • Why do most people leave this field or company?

What are the skills and experience required for this career?

  • What educational preparation would be required for advancement in this field?
  • What qualifications do you look for in a new hire?
  • How do most people enter the profession?
  • What do you think of my résumé? How would you suggest I change it?
  • hat other career paths would you suggest I explore?

Other information you might want to get:

  • What professional journals and organizations should I be aware of, or events should I attend?
  • Is there anything else you think I need to know?
  • Who else would you recommend I speak with? When I do, may I use your name?

Always get the names and contact information of at least one or two other people you can speak with. This will perhaps give you a different perspective and even more importantly, increase your network!
Write a “thank you” note as soon as you return home after the information interview, to leave a good, lasting impression!

Information interviews are a required component of the course I facilitate and students often tell me that:

  • “It was much easier than I thought it would be.”
  • “I got many more contacts than I expected.”

Once they’ve done it, people realize what a valuable tool an information interview can be, and they are usually eager to do it again.

By taking control of your future, you feel exhilarated, proud, confident and very importantly, you will have a network of people who somewhere down the road may know of a job!

Suzanne Chojnacki
Suzanne Chojnacki is the Facilitator for the IPLACE Program at JVS Toronto – a program that trains Job Developers for the non-profit services sector.