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Information Interviews

Q: Last month, after several years of painful indecision, I finally decided to change careers. Not knowing how to get started, I hit the library and checked out several books to help me through the process. All of them recommended doing information interviews (talking to people in fields that interest me) to Identify my career niche and uncover potential job openings available only through the hidden job market.

However, I've read some articles recently that say information interviewing is a worn out tool; that people don't have the time or inclination to do it anymore. In an informal poll of my friends, most agree they wouldn't want to be bothered by some stranger asking lots of questions about their jobs.

What should I believe? Are Information interviews passť or are they still a valuable job search technique?

A: Information interviews have not outlived their usefulness. Potential interviewees are still willing to do them because:

  • People like to be ''the expert."

  • People like to talk about themselves and their work.

  • And most people like to exercise their altruistic inclinations.

In information interviews, human nature generally works in your favor if you give it half a chance. To make the process effective, you must approach it systematically. It’s the haphazard, unprepared career changer who brings out the worst in potentially helpful people. To assure yourself the greatest number of successful contacts, be sure to do the following:

  • Develop a generic job description that includes the skills, values and responsibilities you want in your new career. When people ask, "What do you want to do?" they- don't need a specific job title. But they do expect an answer that indicates some serious forethought.

  • Have a list of intelligent questions that will both get the information you need and impress your interviewee with your businesslike approach. Usually asking the person about him or herself is sufficient. However, a few well-chosen inquiries about his company or industry can score valuable extra points in building your credibility.

  • To get background on specific organizations, read corporate reports, trade journals, business magazines or clipping flies before scheduling your appointment.

  • Make a list of your friends and their friends, as well as members of your church, fraternal groups or volunteer organizations. All of them are potential sources for information interviews, whether they work in fields that intrigue you or have friends who might. Naturally, individuals are more amenable to talking to you if they know that a friend or acquaintance suggested you call.

  • Start with the easy interviews and work your way up to the ones that are scary and require cold calls. If you put these last, your previous successful experiences will bolster your self-confidence and motivate you to take risks.

  • Ask for 30 minutes and don't over stay your time unless your interviewee's schedule permits and his interest is clear. ∑

  • Always send a prompt, typed or handwritten thank you note. This gesture not only emphasizes your thoughtfulness, but puts your name in front of a potential employer in a most favorable light.

  • Follow up if you said you would. Remember, it's your responsibility to pursue a new career. Don't expect interviewees to get back to you. That's your job.

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