Javier Muñoz Parrondo and Rosie Innes: 'Do more than three informational interviews on a specific role so you get common themes rather than a personal opinion.'

Really lost with your job search? A great way to narrow down your options is to schedule 10 informational interviews with executives from different sectors.

What is an informational interview?

This is a meeting where you talk to people in professions you are interested in. They can give you the inside knowledge on what their role is really like. If the meeting goes well, they can even point out vacancies and refer you. If no job comes out of it, then at least you have a useful contact in your network if you have further questions.

What are the benefits?

Most people come to MBA programmes looking for a change. Student’s expectations often include changing sectors, location, function or even a combination of these at the same time.

But what can you do to reduce the huge number of career options in order to focus and get deeper into the really crucial preparation required to start competing for jobs? Our recommendation is to use the weeks or months that you have before you start the programme to first self-assess and then schedule informational interviews with executives from different sectors to learn about their jobs and see what fits you.

How do I find people to interview?

The first step is to identify people who have jobs that you find intriguing and inspiring.

You need information. Anyone is fair game as long as that person is knowledgeable about the field in which you are interested in. Start using your network: sites like LinkedIn and your alumni network make finding contacts incredibly easy.

As you develop your list of potential contacts, send each person a brief introductory email, no longer than 150 words, that includes the following points:

  • Who you are and what the connection is, for example, the friend that recommended you to talk to them
  • Why you are contacting them. Be clear that you are seeking information only — not a job
  • Do not include your CV — the interview is about them, not you
  • Request 20 to 30 minutes of the person’s time at their convenience
  • Thank them

What should I prepare before the interview?

Just like a job interview, to make a good impression make sure you have read up on your interviewee and his or her organisation.

If your interviewee was referred to you by someone, ask that person about him or her. Check their LinkedIn profile and Google them to see what comes up. Was the interviewee recently in a news article or did s/he receive some special recognition? If you have not done so already, remember to visit their company’s website, staff biographies and latest press releases.

What questions should I ask?

Formulate a list of open-ended questions that you intend to ask. There are hundreds of questions you can choose, but the most crucial are:

  • What does your typical day look like?
  • What skillsets and knowledge will I need to be successful in this line of work?
  • What is the typical career path for this role?
  • How do people typically get jobs in this sector?

Answers to these questions should help you understand whether you would like to spend your day doing the same thing. It will also help you with the next stages in your career search: finding out what you need to develop in terms of skills and knowledge during your MBA to be successful in this sector, and with setting an effective job search strategy.

In addition, show them you have done your homework by preparing questions that specifically relate to his or her career path. Here is an example: “I read in a trade magazine article that you started this business when you were just 24.” You can follow this with questions:

• How did you get started?

• What lessons did you learn?

• What do you like most/least about your job?

What do I need to do during the interview?

People are giving you their time and hence you should regard each interview as a business appointment and conduct yourself in a professional manner. Remember the appointment time and appear promptly for your interview. If you have made clear in advance the explicit purpose of your interview you will, in all probability, find your contact an interested and helpful person.

Before ending the conversation, you may want to ask the person for suggestions of other professionals who would be beneficial to interview. It is important that you do more than three informational interviews on a specific role so you get common themes rather than a personal opinion. After the interview, immediately send an email thanking the person for his or her time. The interviewee has taken time out of what is probably a busy schedule to help you. The very least you can do is to thank them.

Rosie Innes, associate director of career management and Javier Muñoz Parrondo, director of alumni and institutional development at Iese Business School in Spain

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