Times change and we change. Most of us at one time or another become curious about other opportunities that might be a better fit. A new management position, whether in a different company within your field, or in a new field altogether, an informational interview should be your first step. This is an interview with someone who is in a management position that interests you. Through them, you can get invaluable information that would be impossible to get anywhere else. The reason is simple; most people enjoy talking about themselves and their jobs. Those who accept will be both flattered and helpful when asked.
Keys for informational interview success
- Never make the person feel that it's for a job interview. Emphasize that she/he is in a career that you are very interested in, and that you want to learn more about it.
- Make it clear that you will meet whenever is convenient to them, whether early, during lunch, or at the end of the day. Also make it clear that you'll only need a few minutes of their time, and that anything will be appreciated.
- Do your research before you go for the appointment. Make sure that you read as much as you can about the person's company and their industry.
- Make the interview as productive as possible by having your questions ready.
- Don't overstay your welcome.
- Never ask how much the person makes! If you can't find the information elsewhere, ask about general ranges but never specifics.
- Follow up with a thank you card. You'll be surprised at how effective this is.
Obtaining an informational interview
You can just call and ask; the worst anyone can say is "No". If you are uncomfortable about cold calling one of the managers of the industry segments, another option is to contact the program director of the nearest university or college that has a hospitality program. They will know many key people in the industry, and will usually be glad to offer suggestions on who to call. It's always better to ask for a specific person and have a referral.
Getting ready for the interview
Go to the company website and read it top to bottom. Search the major news sites, and financial sites such as www.hoovers.com for information on the company. Research trade magazines and industry periodicals at the nearest university or college with a restaurant program. Some of the biggest companies have books written about them, or about their founders; look these up whenever possible.
Before you go to the interview, reflect upon what you are looking for in your transition. For example, if working every weekend is a problem, ask specific questions regarding work schedules and particularly about weekends.
During the Interview
Dress sharp and arrive on time with notebook and pen. Open by offering thanks for the opportunity. Briefly (in two sentences) state your background and why you think you're interested in the industry. Remember, you're there to listen, NOT to sell yourself.
Here are some sample questions that can also be asked: What's the typical career path? What is a typical day-in-the-life like? What do you like best about this company/industry in general? What's the worst part? If you had to do it over, would you do anything different? Are there any clubs or organizations that I should join? What are some periodicals that I could read to learn more? Do you have any specific suggestions for me?
After the interview
Send a thank you note immediately. Don't forget this, or think that it's not important. A simple, quick note stating that you appreciated the interview will leave an excellent impression.
Many people find that an information interview can lead to new contacts, new friends, and even a new job. And if your interview doesn't lead to any of this, at the very least you'll come across as knowledgable when you do interview for a position in this industry or company.