An informational interview is one of the most valuable sources of occupational information, particularly if you are seeking to make a career-transition into a new profession but also if you are keen to just find out more about the company you consider working for. And yet, there are not that many Swiss career-seekers out there who have ever heard of this technique, let alone applied it.
In this article I would like to provide you a basic introduction to this useful tool, one that is very powerful provided you use it skilfully.
But before sharing the details of this somewhat unconventional method of job-searching let me remind you, in the section that follows, of two principal reasons why it matters for you to know beforehand about the profession and the company you target working for.
Why Does It Matter To Gather Occupational Information?
#1: The job must be right for you
Firstly, the job you consider taking isn’t going to work out for you if the company is not right for your skills, qualifications and goals but also your values, interests and even the life you lead outside of work.
A friend of mine has recently told me how uncomfortable she felt working for a Switzerland-based tobacco company where most of her much younger co-workers did not appreciate her parental commitments.
It was these commitments that made it difficult for my friend to join company-sponsored evening-events but also to work within the same time-frame as her colleagues, i.e. she would start the day early and finish early while her colleagues would start late and finish late. All this made her feel a bit like an outcast and she did not feel good spending time in the office.
#2: Your career-security
Secondly, you don’t want to make wrong career choices as this will, in the long run, harm you employability. You want to stick to the line of work and to employers who provide you career-security (do not mistake this with job-security which by the way no longer exists).
And this point is particularly important in Switzerland where making wrong career choices or hopping from job to job is often frowned upon by Swiss recruiters and talent acquisition specialists. Yes, you can trip over once or even twice but certainly not more than this.
Somebody I know quit his job a few years ago with a very successful American company headquartered in Switzerland. His resignation was triggered by a promotion of his co-worker which my acquaintance felt he deserved.
His reaction was in my view too emotional, not thought-through and rushed. What followed is a good illustration of mismanaging one’s career. He left the company and joined a respected but financially-troubled Swiss high-tech company who let him go after a year following a massive re-organization (what a surprise!).
He then joined another company, in the commodity-trading business, where the exact same thing happened. From what I know, he is currently without work and applies for any job he stumbles on the Swiss job boards – something that probably makes him feel like he has accomplished something but which in reality leads him most likely into another career-trap.
Informational Interviews – The Technique Revealed
Now that you appreciate how helpful it is to know about the job and the company I would like to reveal to you the power of informational interviews.
Such interviews present opportunities for an intimate and flexible insider view of the job and the company unmatched by any other sources. It gives you the first-hand impressions of someone “on the inside”, and is directed by your questions.
I personally find information interviews advisable to those expats who seek to make a major career change, and there are indeed many of them living in Switzerland, or to those who want to step up in their careers. Beyond gaining valuable information about the job and/or the company, it builds up your self-confidence and improves your ability to handle a real job interview.
So, if there is a Swiss job available that you are interested in and prepared to apply for, you should consider finding someone on the inside of the company who will be prepared to meet up with you to answer your questions. And even if no job is currently on offer but you really want to work for a particular company or in a particular field, an information interview may give you great insights.
In searching for the business insider, leverage your existing network of connections and make use of LinkedIn to track down the one or two persons you would really like to speak with.
Here are a few tips to consider when seeking an information interview:
- Regard each interview as a business appointment and conduct yourself in a professional manner.
- Make the purpose of your interview clear to the person you contact. You will be surprised that most people will be keen to help you and interested in you as a person.
- Remember to show up promptly for your interview.
- Do not dress too casually, neither should you overdress. Regular business attire is appropriate. Be sure you know the name of the person you are meeting, the correct pronunciation of his/her name, and the title of his/her position. If possible, check the person’s public profile on LinkedIn before the meeting.
- Ask the person you meet if you can take notes during the meeting
- Summarize the outline of the topics covered and the information gained as soon as possible after the interview, and use it to later create a more detailed report of the meeting you had.
- Send a “thank you” note after the meeting. Also, make sure to keep in touch with individuals you have interviewed with by adding them to your network of contacts. These contacts will most likely offer assistance with your job search when you are ready for the next step in the job search process.
Here are some examples of questions I suggest asking during the meeting.
- What is the title of the person you are meeting with and what other similar titles are used to denote this position?
- What are the duties performed during a typical day, week, and month? How much routine and how much variety is there in the job?
- What educational program and what kind of courses are recommended as preparation for this job?
- What degree or certificate do employers look for?
- What kind of work/internship experience would employers look for in a job applicant? And how can a person obtain this work experience?
- What steps besides meeting educational and experiential requirements are necessary to “break into” this occupation?
- What are the important “key words” or “buzz words” to include in a resume or cover letter when job hunting in the field?
- What are the opportunities for career advancement? What are the typical next career moves from this position?
- Which hard and soft skills are most important to acquire?
- What other functions frequently interact with this position?
- What are the employment prospects in a particular geographic area? What are the employment prospects at the company of the person you meet?
- What are some related occupations?
- What are the different salary ranges?
- Does the typical worker have a set schedule (i.e. – 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.) or are the hours flexible?
- What are the demands and frustrations that typically accompany this type of work?
- How can you determine that you have the ability or potential to be successful?
- What types of technology are used and how are they used?
- Where might job listings be found?
In addition to the above question, you are advised to ask the person you are interviewing to tell you about him or herself, in particular:
- Education background
- Career path
- The typical job frustrations, pressures and anxieties
- The satisfying aspects of the job
- The toughest problems and decisions that you must cope with on the job
- The atmosphere/culture connected to his or her job
I guarantee you that one or two information interviews will give you more knowledge of the field you want to work in and/or the company you want to join than any information available on the official website or elsewhere in the public.
In addition, you will feel more confident and more ready for a real job interview and you will also have a new contact to add to your professional network.