Virtual Informational Interviews - Make the Most of Physical Distancing
While the current global pandemic may have put many career and employment plans on hold temporarily, this period of isolation also presents a unique opportunity. For many of us, work has shifted to home offices that may offer more privacy and greater flexibility. It could, in fact, be the perfect time to conduct a virtual informational interview.
Informational interviewing is one of the best forms of career research. It is an opportunity to take your initial web research to the next level. The opportunity to ask thoughtful questions provides deeper insight not only into a specific role, but also into educational and experience pathways.
Research & Preparation
Virtual informational interviews are in many ways identical to those conducted in-person as they begin with your thorough preparation.
Research the interviewee and their company – Find out everything you can online using LinkedIn, alumni press, company websites, and don’t underestimate the power of a Google search. While this might sound like the work of a private detective, your interviewee will likely be flattered and impressed by the depth of your knowledge and ability to ask deeper, more insightful questions.
Prepare great questions – Because you have answered more basic questions through your research, focus on what you can’t learn online. This could include open-ended questions that get at their values and motivators, what a typical workday looks like, what they love/hate about their job, and advice they would offer to someone getting started in the field. Prioritize your questions by asking the more pressing ones first. You can find a list of sample questions here.
Be on time for your meeting and stick to the agreed upon timeframe – The typical rules of decorum still apply to virtual meetings! Respect your interviewee’s time and honour your arrangement.
Take the lead, but go with the flow – Remember that you initiated this meeting so it’s your job to lead the conversation. Having said that, once you start talking, the interview may take on a more conversational flow or head in an unexpected but interesting direction -be flexible, adaptable and enjoy it.
Take notes – You may think you’ll remember those interesting details, but you likely won’t.
Be prepared to talk about you – While you should NOT be asking for a job, your interviewee may be curious to know more about what you’re studying, your future plans, or why you feel you are suited to this type of work. Be ready to talk about your specific education, experience, and skills as they relate to the industry in case it comes up. You will make a good impression by being prepared.
To ensure your meeting runs smoothly and makes a professional impression, you will need to consider and plan the following:
Platform – There are a variety of platforms you can use for video conferencing including Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Webex, and Skype. Create an account and test out your chosen platform well in advance of your informational interview. Practice with friends or family so that you can navigate it confidently.
Audio and video – Part of your test run will include making sure that your webcam, mic, and speakers are all functioning the way they should. Pay particular attention to the angle of your camera. Sitting upright in a chair, raise your phone or laptop to face-height using a stack of books or a box, and at a distance that frames your face to fill most of the screen.
Location - Choose a room that offers a clean, clutter-free background and good lighting. You will also want to ensure little to no background noise or distractions -for both your sakes.
Final preparations – Remember that while your primary goal is to gather information, you are also expanding your network and it is crucial to make a professional impression. As such, dress “business casual”. Solid colours tend to work well, while stripes and patterns may “strobe” on camera.
Now that you’ve had a successful informational interview your job is done, right? Not so fast. After all your careful preparation and execution, make the most of the experience with thoughtful follow-up.
Self-reflect – Take some time to think about what went well, and what you might do differently next time. This will help you to improve your communication and interview skills.
Send a thank-you! – This is vital! Within a day or two of your meeting, send a thoughtful note to your interviewee expressing gratitude for their time and expertise. This note should be personal and mention something specific such as an insight or new perspective you gained, or something that you will do based on their recommendation. If this informational interview was the result of a referral, be sure to thank them too!
Maintain contact – Now that this individual is part of your professional network, keep the connection alive. If you haven’t already, connect on LinkedIn. Keep them posted on your career journey every so often. Send a birthday or holiday greeting, or an article that you think they might enjoy…there are many possibilities.
The rewards of virtual informational interviewing are myriad. From gathering an insider’s perspective into career possibilities and expanding your network, to practicing and improving your interview and workplace technology skills, there is no doubt of the return-on-investment.
Make the most of your time inside!
Julia Leary, Career Advisor