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Mastering The Informational Interview

Posted on: July 1st, 2009 by Christine Kent

Hi Everyone,

For years now, I have been coaching individuals on how to find a job and maintain a career in the entertainment industry. One question I always ask at the start of any client relationship is, “what do you want to do?” While this might seem like a ludicrous question to ask, you would be surprised how many times the answer I receive is, “I don’t know.” The entertainment industry attracts many individuals with artistic and media backgrounds and interests, and often times these people have abilities in more than one area of the arts. So, for instance, a candidate might be an experienced sound engineer, but they are also an accomplished musician with talents in musical production and scoring. Another example would be an animation artist who is good character rigging, but also has a keen eye for concept and matte painting. Because we work in an artistic industry, many times people in our world can be good at more than one aspect of the production process. When this happens, sometimes the candidate will find that they want to switch directions and refocus their career. But, how do you do what’s right for you? How do you figure out if a switch is the right thing to do, or if you would be happier staying where you are? One of the best ways is to do research and garner information about other job roles. And one of my favorite research tools is the Informational Interview.

For years, I have been touting the virtues of the Informational Interview to my career coaching clients, and pretty much anyone who will listen. While the thought of conducting an Informational Interview may be a bit daunting for some, it’s actually a great way to learn more about a job and its duties. Even if you already know the job description or the general function of a role, conducting an Information Interview can give you some insight into the day-to-day process of the job. Also, talking to someone who is actually doing the job will give you an up close and personal look at the role and give you a way to ask questions and explore options. Sure, you can do research online to find out about a particular job function, but an Information Interview will give you a first person account of what it’s like to actually be working in the job. This information can be invaluable to accessing if the job will fit into your lifestyle and if the role will be a worthy and fulfilling career move for you to pursue.

Great! So, how do you get started? Below I’ve listed some tips to help you conducting your own Information Interview and become informed, so you can make a conscious decision about the direction of your career:

Who Do I Ask? – Figure out what jobs you would like more information on, and then find key people that do that job. Ask your network if they know of anyone and reach out to people through LinkedIn. You can also cold call people, if you feel up to it. The important part is to be sure you are meeting with someone who can give you the information you seek.

This Is NOT A Job Interview – Remember, you’re not asking for a job. Be sure you let the person know that you don’t want employment from them. You are simply asking for 15 minutes of their time, so you can pick their brain. People generally want to help others (especially if they don’t feel obligated to help), so if there is no expectation on your part for employment, then the other person will usually be more than happy to meet with you for a few minutes to discuss what they do for a living. (Plus, people usually do like to talk about what they do for a living.)

You’re In Control – Unlike a job interview, you are the one conducting the interview, so keep that in mind. Know what you want to discuss and have questions ready ahead of time. Be personable and conversational, but stay focused. It’s ok to have notes and refer to them and to take notes during the interview. However, be sure to spend most of your time connecting with the interviewee and not with your face in your iPad. No one wants to be interviewed by the top of your head.

Questions Are Key - Have questions prepared ahead of time, so you stay focused. It’s ok to improvise, as things come to you during the interview, but be sure to” know what you want to know” before you even walk into the room. Ask questions about daily routines, responsibilities, salary expectations, and room for growth. This is a good time to ask all the questions that might be taboo to ask during a first job interview. Be sure you will be walk away with a clear picture of the job and how it might or might not be a good fit for you.

Pick A Card, Any Card – Always be sure to give the interviewee your business card and ask them for one in return. They are now part of your network and you are part of theirs, so be polite, but make sure to leave with their contact info so you can follow up, and so you can reach them in the future. This is how business relationships are built!

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You – Be sure to send a thank you note. This individual was gracious enough to give you a few minutes of their valuable time, so giving them thanks and expressing your appreciation is A MUST!


Those are just a few tips that should get you started, and I strongly encourage you to give them a try. Informational Interviews are not only good for obtaining knowledge, but they give you a first-hand account of the role. Armed with the information you garner, you can then decide if this job is a no go, or if it could be your next big strategic move.

Until next time…stay tuned!

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You Asked We Answered

Question: I've been out of work for a while. Do I take a job offer if the pay is awful?

Answer: Yes, taking a job, sometimes any job particularly if you have not worked in a while is good not only for your paycheck but for your mental health as you search for the job you really want. There is no shame in accepting work for honest pay. You are in transition and you need to remind yourself of that and not feel bad if the job you have now or are considering isn't willing to pay you what you are worth. There will be a job out there that will and you need to use all of your resources available including interim work to realize your goals. Taking a low paying job in the meantime may bruise your ego but it won't kill your pride or your wallet.