What would you say if I told you that in one 20-30 minute conversation, you can…
Expand your personal network Gain valuable insights about your chosen career or industry Secure an industry expert’s help in identifying potential fits within their company or their own personal networks
It’s true. Informational interviewing can be a powerful, yet often overlooked, tool in your career management arsenal.
Recently, it’s becoming more common to do these career-boosting interviews by video. The beauty of conducting a virtual interview is that you’re not limited to contacts you have the time or budget to visit in person: you can speak with knowledgeable contacts anywhere in the world. All you need is a computer with an Internet connection, a video camera (included with many newer laptops and computers), and a willingness to further your career.
If you’re a technophobe, the thought of conducting a virtual informational interview may make you tempted to chuck your computer into your closet, but don’t worry. Today’s video technology is surprisingly easy to master. Whether you use Skype, FaceTime, Google+ or another video communication application, checking out their tutorials and downloading the software will have you on camera in no time.
For both the technologically-challenged and tech geeks, mastering these tips for virtual informational interviews will give you another useful tool for directing your career:
1. Reach out
Identify people within your network, or within a company or industry you’d like to work in. Then, contact them by phone, e-mail, or through LinkedIn to see if they’d be willing to talk to you about their company and careers. Be upfront about how much time you’d need, and what you hope to talk about. Make it clear that you’re after information, not a job interview. You might get turned down, and that’s okay. Just look for people in similar positions within that company or industry.
2. Do your research
Knowing everything you can about the company, its products, and the person you’re speaking with will help you focus your questions and obtain the most helpful answers. You’re not likely to impress your contact if you ask questions that could be easily answered through a quick Google search.
3. Prepare your questions
Remember, this is an opportunity for you to get an inside look at how the company or industry operates and what it takes to be successful in your contact’s profession. Since many people enjoy talking about themselves, showing interest in your contact’s personal career path may be a great way for you to gain some valuable insights while helping them warm up to you. It’s perfectly okay to ask about typical salaries and benefits for a position, but steer clear of asking your contact for specifics on their personal pay rate.
4. Practice (with a partner, preferably)
Set up your monitor or laptop screen so that it captures your head and torso, and make sure the camera angle is straight-on. An up-the-nose shot won’t do you any favors. Make sure that what appears behind you looks neat and pleasant, without any distractions. Check the audio level to make sure you can be heard clearly. And while you may be tempted to look at your computer screen while talking, you’ll appear at your best if you look into the camera instead.
5. Dress the part
You may be Skyping in your bedroom, but you’ll still want to dress as if you’re meeting your contact face-to-face. If a car alarm blaring through your open windows or the dog scratching and whining at the door forces you to get up, you don’t want your interviewer to catch a glimpse of you in your skin-tight yoga pants or ratty boxers. (Even if you have nice legs.)
6. Ask for help
Keep in mind that your contact has agreed to give you information, not a job offer. Don’t pressure them for help getting your resume in front of key decision-makers. Instead, ask them if they know of other people you could talk to within their company or industry. When you really do want a job, this may feel counter-intuitive. But the whole point of the informational interview is to find out more about the company or industry you would like to work for… while helping make connections with people who may remember you later when a position does open up.
7. Express appreciation
Make sure you thank your contact for their cooperation during your conversation. It’s also a smart move to follow up with a handwritten note or e-mail to thank them for their time, and to update them on any successes you may realize as a result of their help. They will be more likely to remember you favorably when you’re appreciative of their willingness to speak with you, and that will work to your benefit if they later learn of an open position that may suit you.
Don’t be afraid to come out of your comfort zone and into the world of virtual informational interviews. With a little courage and practice, soon you’ll be making connections that will help inform and guide your career choices.
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