informational interviewing

Informational Interviewing: A Critical Tool for Remote Jobseekers

One of the most effective (and underused) tools in a remote jobseeker’s tool chest is informational interviewing. As the gateway to a wealth of applicable career knowledge, an informational interview is the best way to get the inside scoop on what it’s really like to work in a specific job. Read on to learn more about this critical tool and how to use it to your advantage in a current or future remote job search.

What Is Information Interviewing and Why Should Remote Jobseekers Care?

In an age where Google and Wikipedia rule, a remote jobseeker may be fooled into thinking the information these popular platforms offer is the beginning and end of their career research. However, there is a lot of information that these sources cannot uncover. Internet searches should only represent the beginning of your quest for accurate career information.

Tools such as informational interviewing provide jobseekers with that next level of understanding regarding a specific career.

Informational Interviewing Defined

Whether you’re looking for a position in an office or a remote work role, conducting informational interviewing is a critical step in your exploration of potential jobs and careers.

Informational interviewing involves identifying individuals in positions along your potential career track. The goal is to conduct brief meetings with them to ask questions and gather information about their positions and backgrounds.

The information gained during this process brings a valuable perspective to your job search. Informational interviews usually have the following characteristics:

  • Information only (not a job interview)
  • Fairly short, usually 15-30 minutes
  • Completed in-person, over the phone, or using a video conference application
  • Conducted with individuals in positions related to the jobseeker’s career goals
  • Business professional attire and attitude, as appropriate

Benefits of Informational Interviews

You are already really busy researching positions and filling out online applications. Therefore, you might think you do not have time for the extra work informational interviewing requires. Still, the career benefits informational interviewing offers make any extra work worth it. Continue reading to learn the top three career benefits gained through informational interviewing.

1. Get the Inside Scoop

Informational interviewing is the absolute best way to get honest and detailed information about career paths you are exploring. Your interviewees can provide you with first-hand knowledge of what it’s like to work in a position, both the good and bad. When researching new job possibilities, there can be a tendency to romanticize jobs and overlook possible problem areas. Informational interviewing is the perfect way to check your assumptions and get real insights into the daily duties and responsibilities of a position.

In addition to interviewing people who hold a position that you would like to apply for, expand your vision and include individuals that may be one, or even many, steps ahead in your ideal career progression. What if you earn a promotion to team leader? What would that job look like? Dream big, and try to schedule an interview or two with someone in the ultimate position you want to achieve, whether that’s a CEO or a famous author. You may be surprised at how open people are to helping someone who is just getting started.

Another advantage to getting the inside scoop through informational interviewing is that it may help you identify new opportunities or career options. Often, individuals with many years of experience in an industry will know of jobs associated with your ideal career path that you had no idea existed. Informational interviewing is a great way to shine a light on related, but previously unknown, opportunities that may ultimately be a better fit.

If you are searching for remote work positions, obtaining first-hand information regarding the nitty-gritty of working remotely in your chosen job or career is extremely important. Compare the experience of your interviewees with your expectations to determine if it’s a lifestyle that will work for you. Do they feel isolated? What work schedules do they follow? Do they find it possible to maintain a healthy work-life balance?

2. Engage in Professional Networking

Moving into a new career area can leave us with few contacts in our field. Informational interviewing can help you develop new relationships and set the foundation for a productive professional network. Through cultivating a network of business contacts, you will hear about new job openings, emerging industry trends, and important vendors and partnership opportunities that can be crucial to your future success.

Whenever you are communicating with a potential interviewee, always think long term. Even if they don’t want to schedule an interview, try to solicit suggestions for other people to talk to or resources that may help. Also, try to offer something in return for their assistance. A link to an article relevant to their field is one suggestion. Using these techniques helps to build a common bond and aids in establishing a relationship.

Sometimes, since giving advice and direction naturally leads to mentorship, the relationships you build during informational interviews can endure many years. In this way, informational interviewing is a great investment in your future, one you can draw upon for support many times during your career.

Remote workers often find even more reason to rely upon their professional network than those who work in an office. Telecommute workers frequently report that they feel more isolated and overlooked by both co-workers and management. A strong professional network can help alleviate these difficulties by providing an alternative resource to turn to for information and advice.

3. Access a Hidden Job Market

While technology makes it easy to search for jobs that are posted on the internet, it does little to uncover positions that aren’t being advertised. The so-called hidden job market has been estimated to account for up to 80% of new hires. Informational interviewing can help you identify these hidden positions in companies and industries that interest you.

Informational interviews are not job interviews. Nonetheless, the impressions you make during informational interviews can act as an informal job interview. If your interview goes well, and you impress them with your probing questions and extensive knowledge, you may go to the front of the line for any unadvertised positions that are available. This is most common when you interview professionals in more senior positions, so make sure to include at least a few people in this category as you create your list of potential interviewees.

Even if a position is advertised, informational interviewing can provide an in-depth look at the open position, which can give you a better idea of whether or not it’s a good fit. There are a lot of things that can get left out of a job ad, especially things that the company may not want to advertise. Examples of this type of information include things like low staff morale, upcoming leadership changes, or a freeze on raises that’s lasted three years.

Whether there’s a position at stake or not, informational interviewing offers invaluable practice for actual job interviews. Sometimes, the individual you are interviewing may be so impressed that they offer to put in a good word for you on open roles in their company or with any outside connections they may have. However, you should never ask for this favor.

Who Will Benefit Most from Informational Interviewing?

While almost all jobseekers can benefit from informational interviewing, there are a few groups that stand to benefit most:

New Graduates

If you are a new graduate entering the job market for the first time, informational interviewing is extremely worthwhile. Every conversation you have will add to your practical knowledge of what it’s like to hold the type of job you’re searching for. Interviewees can answer key questions, such as the ones listed here:

  • What does a typical day look like?
  • Who will you work with the most?
  • What did they wish they knew before starting their position or career?

The details someone working in a new graduate’s desired position can provide are priceless and can open a jobseeker’s eyes to the day-to-day reality of the career they are pursuing.

Potential mentorship opportunities formed through informational interviews are also of the utmost importance for new graduates. Mentors can offer new professionals job-specific information and help facilitate the expansion of a new professional network by providing introductions, delivering guidance and giving honest feedback.

Remote Workers

If you’re new to remote work, informational interviewing can provide important facts about telecommuting in general as well as informed thoughts about what remote work is like in a certain position or company. This information will allow you to make informed decisions about the direction you want to go in and the lifestyle you wish to achieve.

In addition, remote workers can become isolated and cut off from daily office communications. This can lead to being overlooked for promotions or feeling underappreciated. Relationships developed via informational interviewing can help to mitigate these challenges by providing information about new opportunities or even just a much-needed brainstorming partner.

Professionals Seeking Career Transitions

If you are considering a job change, especially if you are deciding to move in a completely new direction, informational interviewing can give you vital information. When changing careers, they help you look before you leap, enabling you to fine-tune your job search strategies and goals by answering questions like these.

  • Do you actually need to get that certification before you apply for jobs?
  • Should you expect a drop in pay? If so, how much?
  • How should you format your resume for this new industry?

This information can help you plan ahead to address potential challenges. If you are merely considering a change in companies, conducting informational interviewing with a potential employer’s current employees can help you quickly make a decision. Try to talk to people who are at the same level you would be with an organization in order to explore what the company culture is really like and even how management doles out promotions and raises. This should help you determine if what the company says matches up with reality.

Informational interviewing is a tried-and-true method for improving a jobseeker’s understanding of a specific career path. It can help build a professional network and may even lead to the discovery and securing of open positions. If you are a new graduate, undergoing a career transition, or considering remote work, conducting informational interviewing can be especially helpful. While it may require a little extra time and energy upfront, informational interviewing can lead you to positions where you can thrive most.

Have you ever gone on an informational interview? What tips would you add to this listConnect with Virtual Vocations on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to tell us. We’d love to hear from you!

iStock Photo Credit: SeventyFour

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