Informational interviews are largely occurring virtually. This post offers 5 quick tips for taking notes during virtual informational interviews.
What’s an Informational Interview?
An informational interview is a conversation with a person pursuing a project/role/field that you want to explore further. The goal is to ask questions to gain a better understanding of a project/role/field and a person’s experiences and perspectives. They typically last 15-30 minutes.
While many job seekers conduct informational interviews, it is a faux pas to directly ask if the person you are talking to can hire you. Available positions and future opportunities might arise as part of the conversation, but that is not the goal of informational interviews. The goal is to research experiences and perspectives in a project/role/field that you want to explore further.
5 Quick Tips for Taking Notes During Virtual Informational Interviews
Given COVID-19, informational interviews are largely taking place virtually. Many of my students are conducting multiple interviews across a short amount of time. They wanted advice on how to take notes in the virtual environment. The following are my 5 quick tips for taking notes during virtual informational interviews.
1. Have Your Pen and Paper Ready
Think through in advance how you plan to take notes during the interview. The goal is to focus on the conversation, but it might make sense to jot down some things down.
Typing notes on your computer might be a distraction. Why?
When a person types while on a video call they are ‘looking’ at the person they are talking to, but it’s clear that their attention is elsewhere (e.g., the document in which they are typing).
This can be a bit awkward.
Writing with a pen and paper (or even a digital stylus on a tablet) gives a much more understandable social cue to your interviewee. If you occasionally look down to jot down something, your interviewee easily gets what is going on.
2. Review and Rank Initial Questions
The informational interview is a conversation. Ideally, you will ask follow-up questions based on what your interviewee tells you. Nonetheless, it’s important to come up with 3-5 questions to start and guide your conversation.
In terms of note-taking, review your questions right before the interview so they fresh in your mind. Also, write and rank them in order of importance to you. Ask your pressing questions first in case you run short on time.
When writing your questions down in order beforehand leave space so you can quickly jot down the answers as you hear them.
3. Jot Down a Few Keywords During the Interview
Do not attempt to transcribe the interview question answers word-for-word. Instead, jot down a few keywords or notes to help you recall parts of the conversation after the interview. You might even want to try mind-mapping.
Remember, your focus during the interview is your interviewee – not your notes.
4. Let Your Interviewee Know If You Need a Moment
If want to write something that cannot be jotted down in a few keywords, let your interviewee know you’re pausing for a moment.
Sharing this pause with your interviewee helps avoid awkward silences. It also gives you space to write without having to juggle listening and processing new pieces of information.
5. Write a Reflection After the Interview
Spend time after the interview writing a reflection. The reflection can include filling in any gaps with your notes, noting your impressions, and outlining follow-up steps. Writing this up right after the interview is crucial because the interview is still fresh in your mind.
These intentional notes will help you keep track of who you talked, what they said, and the insights and actions that resulted.
Informational interviews in the virtual space might be a bit daunting in the beginning. However, they offer the possibility to connect with people you might not have had access to before due to time and geographies.
You might be in a situation where the tips I offered might not work for you. For example, you might have a learning style that requires more extensive notes or note-taking parameters. If you need to record your interview or utilize live transcription, make sure to discuss this with your interviewee beforehand.
Also, if you prefer to type, you might want to opt for an audio phone call. You can use a headset so you can easily listen and type without distracting your interviewee.
My 5 quick tips focus on optimizing for the overall goal of the informational interview – an insightful conversation. The logic behind many of the suggestions is to help facilitate as natural of a conversation as possible in the virtual space that is engaging for both the interviewee and interviewer.
Do you have any tips for taking notes during a virutal informational interview? Let me know in the comments.