The Why, What and How of a Successful Informational Interview
Savvy job seekers are employing every trick in the book to make the cut, but they could be overlooking one of the most valuable tools of all — the informational interview.
An informational interview is an informal meeting arranged by you with someone who may be in a position to help you get a job in the future, either directly or indirectly. While its stated purpose is to “learn more about the company or profession,”your real motive is to first impress the interviewer and then gather intelligence that could help secure a job there.
WHY set one up?
At an informational interview, you can:
- Gather first-hand information about career fields and companies that you are targeting as well as ideas for getting useful new job leads.
- Connect with powerful influencers and expand your network of contacts.
- Place yourself ahead of the game by managing a one-on-one conversation with someone in a position to either hire or refer you.
- Make a good first impression with people who matter. Even though you should not ask directly for a job at an informational interview, the thought may very well occur to the person if you come across as professional, capable and a good fit for the company.
WHAT are the steps?
To set up such an interview, you should:
- Identify someone to interview. Contact family, friends and peers, look up professional organizations and browse through LinkedIn, Facebook and Google search for valuable contacts.
- Contact the person by phone or email and request an appointment. Be sure to state the reason you are contacting him or her, how much time you are seeking (say, 30 minutes), and how you learned about them and their work.
- Research and read about the company and career field as much as you can.
- Prepare a list of focused questions that not only highlight your seriousness and professionalism, but could also help you eventually get a job. Some sample questions you could ask include: “What advice would you have for someone starting out in this field?” or “What skills and characteristics are important for success in this job?” or “What are some growth areas in this field?”
HOW do you ensure success?
To ensure the interview is a successful event, you should:
- Dress to impress. First impressions count and you will be judged as soon as you walk in the door, so make it count.
- Inspire with a powerful elevator pitch — a 20- to 30-second introduction that specifies why you’re interested in this field and company, and why you want to specifically speak to him or her.
- Express your gratitude early on. Say thanks earnestly for his or her time and consideration.
- Plan your agenda with select questions that will give you the most information.
- Lead the conversation to come across as efficient and professional. You could walk in with printed copies of the company’s latest press releases to impress them with your extensive knowledge of their company.
- Request a referral. This is key to expand your network. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask: “Who do you suggest I could speak with next? Can you connect me to someone you know for more information?”
- Follow-up with a thank-you email stating your gratitude for the time given. Stay in touch by sharing your professional progress through email, informing the person how helpful his or her suggestions have been to you.
- Be open to learn from the interview. Each interview gives you valuable input and can also help you hone your interview skills so that when a real job interview does come up, you’ll be prepared to ace it.