The Informational Interview: What Not To Say and More
I have encountered job seekers who had taken part in informational interviews but seemed to find them fruitless. Admittedly, having helped many clients using a straightforward approach, I was skeptical about the winding path to a career that the informational-interview process seems to represent. Recent conversations have shown me that taking the right approach, though, can land positions in competitive fields even in a difficult economy. I'll share what I learned about what not to say, how to leverage social media, and more.
Build your presence on LinkedIn.
Create your résumé by filling in your profile with information on your professional positions and duties, education, activities, etc. Chris emphasized résumé-building via LinkedIn as a crucial step so that you can avoid sending or asking to send your résumé to contacts, making you seem less pushy and requiring less of their time; if your contacts really want to know more, they can easily view your LinkedIn profile or request your résumé.
Then acquire connections and join networking groups.
Figure out what you hope to accomplish with the interview.
A successful interview should mean that you’ve moved forward in reaching career goals by acquiring new information or building a new relationship or, possibly, eliminated a certain position, company, or industry from your list of possibilities. The interview should help you to narrow your focus on a discipline, company, or industry.
Find as much information about your targeted industry, discipline, or company as you can. You might identify companies that fit certain criteria or learn as much as possible about a specific company. Check out company websites, news reports, and trade publications. Use the research to prepare for interviews.
Identify and make contacts.
Write and send a brief letter.
The letter should tell a bit about yourself, your common ground, and the information you are requesting. Ask for about 30 minutes of the interviewee’s time and suggest a timeframe or specific times (give a couple of options) to talk. See Chris's letter on his post about informational interviews.
Establishing commonality is essential but can be covered through a brief mention of a former employer, alma mater, or whatever the connection is. Grayson, who now coaches international MBAs through her company MBA in the USA told me that many of her clients who come from relationship-based cultures (where relationships are cultivated over a period of several years) rather than transaction-based cultures (where people expect that if you do something for me, I’ll do something for you) are skeptical but then see the power of identifying and connecting on seemingly insignificant things in common.
Arrange a time and place to talk.
Prepare your questions and a short spiel about yourself.
Close with a key question.
Send a follow-up note thanking the interviewee for his or her time.
Trent of The Simple Dollar gives excellent advice on how to write a thank-you letter, including instructions on how to write a note following an interview.
Go through traditional channels of applying for a position with the company.
You can follow the company's protocol for applying for a position, such as submitting a résumé with cover letter for open positions. The informational-interview process should give you an advantage: 1) you have relationships within the company and will be more likely to be called for a job interview; 2) you’ll be able to respond to questions and converse more intelligently on topics relevant to the potential employer. For example, Chris's efforts garnered an exclusive invitation to an all-day candidate-evaluation event, where he demonstrated his marketing prowess and won a job offer.
David Yeghiaian of Unique Business Solutions validated the value of informational interviews and provided insights from the potential interviewees' perspective:
- Though many in large corporations in major cities understand what an information interview is, you may need to educate your targeted interviewees on what you are trying to accomplish.
- Many people who have valuable information may be inundated with requests right now, and may not have the time to accommodate as many interviews as they'd like.
For some job seekers, the ideal informational-interview scenario is that a hiring manager will agree to a meeting and then be wowed by the interviewer’s knowledge and capabilities, leading to an on-the-spot job offer. And, while such things can (and do) happen, the focus should be on gathering information with side benefits of cultivating relationships, finding a champion within your target company, and growing your network. It's a process that seems to require much effort over at least several months but one that can have a big payoff: a great job with the right organization.