. . . . .Informational Interview
These past few months, I’ve been practicing off-road job searching, pursuing a library job through unconventional means. I live in Oregon, a slow library job market, and days would pass when no new jobs were posted. So, I took it upon myself to “knock on some doors.” Doesn’t that sound crazy? It may, but actually, informational interviewing is not uncommon! It’s a great opportunity to network and to practice interviewing, and it will keep you busy should you find yourself in a slow job market.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines informational interviewing as “talking to people about their jobs and asking for advice” (Crosby, 2010). According to one New York Times blogger, informational interviews “are not about asking for job leads; the point is to learn something” (Aloher, 2008). Thus, informational interviews are a good way to scope out a new library or a position you might want to aim for, even if you are already employed. Other benefits of informational interviews are to expand your professional network, build confidence for job interviews, and to get feedback on your resume or job search (Aloher, 2008; Quintessential, n.d.; Crosby, 2010). Having just moved to Oregon, I myself was interested in expanding my network and learning the lay of the land, and also knew it would give me more practice in giving my elevator pitch.
Of the four requests I sent for informational interviews, I received two responses—not bad odds! Speaking of, one statistic I found stated that only one in 200 resumes results in a job offer, versus one in twelve informational interviews (Quintessential, n.d.)! However, drafting a request and preparing for these interviews is time consuming, so I would advise that you pick just one or two people/organizations which really appeal to you. Unlike cover letters, there are no job duties or qualifications for you to speak to in your letter—instead, you will have to subtly sell your own strengths. Here is an example of one of my letters, albeit one which did not result in an interview! (note names have been removed)
September 6, 2012
F G City Library
2114 P Avenue
City OR zip code
Dear Ms. W,
I have just moved to F G City from Denver, Colorado, with my husband, who is new faculty at P University. I am a newly minted MLIS, but I have years of library experience, including at the Denver Public Library and Colorado State Library, and in libraries abroad. Like most librarians, I am wild about our profession, but I am especially passionate about being of service to others. I entered into librarianship because I observed that the library was uniquely situated to help people in need, and also acted very much as the hub of the community. Having spent several afternoons in your library, I have noticed the same: that your public access computers and reference services are helping people to fulfill their vital information needs, and that the library is a beacon of the F G City community.
Given the scarcity of available library jobs in Oregon, I thought I might inquire as to whether your library uses a pool of on-call librarians and staff. I have worked in the capacity of on-call librarian for Denver Public Library, and also have several years of experience shelving, including weeding, shifting, and creating library displays. Beyond being a hard worker, I have a proven track record of service to traditionally marginalized populations, and have even trained other staff in “communicating across cultures.”
Great customer service, adaptability, comfort with technology, professionalism, and experience serving diverse communities are among those assets which make me an outstanding librarian. I would welcome the chance to meet in person to share ideas and learn more about F G City Library’s services, and wonder if you be willing to schedule an informational interview sometime this month. This would mean a great deal to me, as I am eager to reach out to others who care as much about public libraries as I do. I appreciate whatever time you can spare. Thank you.
You will note that I wrap my letter up by asking for an informational interview and hinting at what I hope to gain from such an interaction.
Should you be invited for an informational interview, you’ll need to do a little bit more work in preparation. Know what it is that you want out of the interview, and have some thoughtful questions prepared. As mentioned, you will also need to be prepared to give your pitch, or a short explanation of who you are and what you hope to do. In the informational interview I had last week, the interviewer asked me frankly, “What is it that I can do for you?” Have a good answer ready! See the recommended articles below for sample questions. Some of my favorites, taken from Alboher (2008) and Quintessential (n.d.) and are:
What kinds of experience would you encourage for anybody pursuing a position with this organization?
Do you have any special words of warning or encouragement?
Are there any professional or trade associations I should connect with?
In addition to these great examples, I would point out that if you are visiting a library or an archive, you can also ask for a tour if it’s appropriate. However, one more word about the informational interview itself is to be cognizant and respectful of the interviewer’s time (Alboher, 2008)!
After your informational interview, you must send your thanks—email should be fine. At this time, you can also follow up on your conversation, providing your resume or a link to an article you discussed, if appropriate (Winter, 2012). Hopefully, your interview has been helpful to you in gathering answers to your questions, practicing for other interviews, and building your network.
As always, your own reflections on informational interviews and guerrilla job seeking are much appreciated!
formerly titled Informational Interview by Chelsea Jordan-Makely and published on 1/10/13