Are you ready to take the next step in your career but not sure which companies would be a good fit for you? It’s time to do your research. But what is the most effective way to learn about a company?
You might look at the company website, check out their social media feeds, or look for employee reviews on crowdsourcing sites, but there is one method that is most likely to give you the inside scoop.
The BEST way to learn about a company is to talk to someone who works there.
It’s called an “informational interview,” or exploratory discussion. It’s a relaxed chat with someone who has the inside track on a company but is not necessarily hiring for any positions.
Q: If the person you meet isn’t hiring, how can an informational interview help you find a job?
A: Career development professionals often talk about the “hidden job market” where positions are filled without ever being publicly advertised. When you hear about this hidden market, you may wonder how they find candidates. Often hiring managers rely on people recommended by current employees. Even if a job opening is posted, an employee referral is likely to give you an edge as well.
Q: How do I ask for an informational interview?
A: To find folks willing to talk with you, start with your alumni network. Owl Network is the best place to start, and LinkedIn’s Temple University or Fox School of Business alumni pages are a great next stop.
Once you’ve identified a few people you’d like to meet, craft an email or verbal pitch that specifies what you’re hoping to learn and how long you’d like to meet—usually about 15 minutes. If you need help with crafting your email, reach out to the team at the Fox School’s Center for Student Professional Development.
Q: What should I ask during the interview?
A: Here are some questions to consider asking in the informational interview.
- How did you get into this field?
- Did you plan to work in this industry or was it an unexpected turn in your career?
- What type of training or education does a person need to work in this field?
- What do you like about working at your particular company?
- How is your company different from other major competitors in the market?
- How do you think the industry will change in the next two, five or ten10 years?
- What’s a common misconception that outsiders have about people in this field?
- Do you have any advice for me as I try to carve out a career in this field?
These questions are open-ended and give your interviewee a chance to take the conversation in a different direction if desired. They also give you valuable insights into the industry, company, or job which can help you craft a cover letter, hone a résumé, or nail an interview.
Q: What question should I NOT ask?
A: You may have noticed one question missing from this list: Would you hire me? During an informational interview, it’s impolite to ask if there is a job opening available or if the person could recommend you for a job. This individual graciously offered to share advice and give you an insider’s perspective on the company. If a position were open and you were a good fit, a recommendation would come naturally. To ask for one outright puts this person in an awkward position if you’re not right for that role.
Q: It went well! Now what?
A: If the informational interview goes well and the person you spoke with seems amenable, ask for an introduction to another contact (or two) in the field. When you touch base with those referred contacts, mention that you found this meeting helpful and ask if they would be willing to chat with you briefly, as well! This process can lead to a line of new connections, each of whom can share their network with you.
Of course, be sure to send a warm, personal “thank you” email immediately after the meeting. Even if you think you may never cross paths with this person again, follow up to say thanks.
If you make a new connection thanks to the introduction offered by your initial contact, send another email to your initial contact to let them know. Word travels fast, so make sure you get your name out there for all the right reasons!
Lynn Carroll provides professional development support to graduate students at the Fox School. Lynn holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Penn and has completed graduate coursework in organizational development and coaching, obtaining the Global Career Development Facilitator certification (GCDF). While pursuing a career in higher education, she also maintains a private career coaching practice, a monthly Twitter chat and a blog called Career Authentically.