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Phoenix Forward

Explore new careers through informational interviews

A woman in front of an interview panel

Instead of diving headfirst into a new career, consider capitalizing on the traditional job interview’s enlightening sibling, the informational interview. Informational interviews offer anyone entering a profession the chance to chat with people in their network about industries or potential employers before chasing down a career path.

Seek connections through your network.

Scheduling an informational interview relies greatly on whom you know professionally or personally, says Amy Klink, director of talent acquisition and operations at Apollo Education Group, the parent company of University of Phoenix. The key to preventing your efforts from falling flat, she adds, is getting a member of your network to guide you to the right contacts.

However, don't despair if connections don't yet exist — just broaden your network at local professional events.

"You just have to be really creative in terms of figuring out where professional people spend their time outside of work. You can attend networking events within the community or turn to recruiters. Recruiters tend to know everybody, especially in specific markets or geographical areas," Klink explains. But, she warns, informational interviews are more of a courtesy than a professional necessity from the interviewees’ standpoint.

Prepare questions beforehand.

Once an informational interview is successfully arranged, it's important to prepare by researching the company or industry and compiling relevant questions, suggests Klink.

The objective: to learn from this person’s experience. "The goal when you walk away from the informational interview is that you truly have more insight into the company and the people that work at that company," says Klink.

Take advantage of as many informational interviews that you can. … You will be one connection closer to discovering your next career opportunity.

Thus, ask questions that go beyond the basics, including those about values and culture as well as questions that are specific to the industry, company or department. Before you walk in the room, determine what you'll need to know as you prepare for your career and make sure you walk out with the answers you need.

Don't be afraid to schedule multiple interviews to gain different perspectives.

Often, you can learn a lot of timely information from someone in the industry that you would never learn from a book. As a result, these meetings are a resource you can't afford to ignore.

"Take advantage of as many informational interviews that you can," Klink says. "You will learn something new and you will be one connection closer to discovering your next career opportunity."

Expect this kind of networking to take time.

At best, arranging these meet-ups will help you add new contacts to your network, which may prove valuable in the long run.

"You shouldn't expect a job offer," says Klink. "However, a person will build a relationship and learn more about that industry or a company so when the time comes … that person can make an informed decision about whether that industry or company is truly a good fit."

Interested in furthering your education?