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Using Informational Interviews to Begin Your Career

CoffeeBreakInformationalInterview
Picture from https://www.flickr.com/photos/alisdair/albums/411642

If you know the industry you want to enter for your new post-military civilian career, or even if you have no idea, informational interviews can be incredibly useful in determining and pursuing your next step.

What is an informational interview?

An informational interview is when you set up a fairly informal meeting with someone to discuss their job or expertise about an industry, and ask for career advice for the purpose of your career advancement.

It might start with a connection introducing you to the potential interviewee, reaching out to someone with a request to grab coffee together via social media, or any other way that you can connect with someone who has career expertise from which you can learn.

How can informational interviews be useful?

For those who know what industry, company or job they want to be in, the informational interview can be used to do the following:

  • Confirm you made the right choice and that this is a good fit.
  • Find out what the job is actually like and what the requirements are, so that you can better revise your resume to fit and prepare appropriate responses to interview questions.
  • Learn about the culture so you are mentally prepared when you start your new job.

The veteran who is still trying to figure out what industry or company is a good fit will find informational interviews useful for the following:

  • Find out what companies are the main players in specific industries.
  • Understand what types of jobs these companies have, so you can target your resume and begin career planning toward that newly discovered dream job.
  • Learn about the day-to-day specifics of a particular job to know early on if applying for it would be worth your time, or if doing the job would drive you insane.

Some questions for you to consider

Your next step is to know what you will discuss during your informational interview. To help you in this step, here are some questions that you might want to ask:

  • What is the day-to-day like? What do you actually do, and how does that contribute to the team?
  • How much do politics play into work life?
  • Is there much of a work-life balance?
  • How did you land your position, and what would you have done differently, if anything?
  • Have you seen anything applicants have done wrong in the job application or interview process?
  • What advice do you have for someone in their first year in the company, to help them stand out and advance their career?
  • Is there much growth potential? How do people in this company move up?
  • What is the culture of the industry/company/team? Does this fit well with military culture?
  • If you were to describe the CEO as a Disney villain, who would it be?

OK, that last one should probably not be asked. We included it here to remind you to keep it light.

This should be a conversation, not a boring ACTUAL interview. This is your chance to talk with someone who understands your potential industry, get to know them, and maybe gain a contact who will vouch for you down the road.

So approach the informational interview in a friendly yet professional manner, offer to pay for their coffee, and remember to thank them for their time. You will have, we hope, left a lasting impression with said person, but also come away with a better understanding of where you might want to take your career.

This is your career we're talking about -- do your homework. Don't simply jump in blind, or you might soon find yourself lost.

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