In every career, there’s someone who came before you to pave the way for your industry in some capacity. Reaching out to these individuals to learn more about your craft can help you advance in the workplace as well as in life. Informational interviews provide workers with the perfect setting to network and connect with others to gain insight into a career or role. Active-duty military members rising up the ranks and Veterans entering the civilian workforce alike can benefit from such opportunities. Learn more about informational interviewing and how it can help you in both your military career and as a civilian.
What Is an Informational Interview?
Though they go by many names, informational interviews are when an individual is looking for a job, career, or company from someone with more experience. It’s networking with someone within your field to gain knowledge and advice on any number of topics.
A key to note here is that an informational interview is not the same as a job interview. While there can be some obvious crossover, an informational interview doesn’t happen when a job opportunity is present.
Creating a dialogue for active-duty military members with more senior officers is a great way to move up and find the right path while in the military. For Veterans, it’s a great opportunity to do the same with their own pursuits.
Veterans leave the service with plenty of tangible and intangible skills for any number of industries. Learning how to apply those skills, as well as what to expect when transitioning out of the military, can help you have a smoother transition and thrive in your career.
How To Ask for an Informational Interview
Getting to a meeting with an expert is the first step in the process, so it’s only right that we explore how you ask for informational interviews. From inquiring in person to learning how to ask for an informational interview on LinkedIn, here are a few tips:
- Prepare before you speak. Whether it’s online or in person, have a plan of how you want your meeting to go.
- First impressions matter, so make them count. From the subject line to your handshake, you only get one.
- Don’t take up too much time initially. This is where you’re doing more meeting than greeting.
- Have an elevator speech ready. Let the individual know who you are, what you wish to learn, why, and how you came about choosing them.
- Complements go a long way, but be sincere.
- Be direct but thoughtful in your initial interaction. You have to ask for the meeting, but you don’t want to be pushy.
One important thing all Veterans should remember is to avoid the use of templates… at least verbatim. If you’re asking for help online, going the cookie-cutter route is a no-go.
What To Ask in an Informational Interview
There are plenty of ways to go about asking informational interview questions. The key is that any and all questions need to be purposeful toward gaining knowledge to achieve your goals.
This is for multiple reasons, including not wasting the time of the expert you meet as well as meeting your objectives.
Questions should be specific to your industry and leave you knowing more than you did about your craft than when you first sat down.
Additionally, questions about how your skillset and experiences fit within a role/company/industry will come to advance whichever is applicable.
This is a great time to explore your background within the interview, specifically to clarify your experiences in the military.
If you’re looking for specific informational interview questions to ask, unfortunately, you’re going to have to get a bit creative. Nevertheless, for those exploring careers & opportunities, the brilliant minds at the UC Berkeley Career Center have come up with some great examples.
Again, please note, Veterans should use this list less as a way to copy and paste their solution and more as a jumping-off point.
What To Wear: Informal Interview Edition
Part of knowing how to prepare for an informal interview, one of the many alternative names to an informational interview, is knowing what to wear. Remember, informational interviews aren’t as stuffy as job interviews. Business smart or business casual will do. You don’t want to completely dress down, as you’ll want to be taken seriously and look presentable, but going all out isn’t necessary at this stage.
Informational Interview Tips for Veterans (And Civilians)
Gaining knowledge is always important, and when it comes to your career, it’s critical. Veterans networking in the civilian world may have questions about how to go about it, and we get it. That’s why we have plenty of tips to help you with informational interviewing:
- Speak with experts and avoid recruiters. Get to know the people on the front lines, putting in the work day in and day out.
- Seek professional organizations and certifications within your field that help you hone your skills while interacting with others.
- Ask questions with a purpose. Learn what you need to do in order to take the right path aligning with your career goals.
- Connect with other Veterans. The experience of serving isn’t the same for everyone, but there are unique challenges and advice only Veterans can relate to.
In addition to these steps, there’s more you can do, including seeking additional opinions. Don’t just take it from us; learn from the pros at Indeed:
Informational interviews may feel like a buzzword, but any Veteran knows the value of gathering intel and working as a team. Get to know those who came before you and take advantage of any tips and tricks along the way.