Did you know that 70 percent of job seekers find their jobs through networking? One of the most effective – but often daunting – networking tactics is the informational interview. However, the purpose of an informational interview is to learn more about a particular career, workplace, or industry… not necessarily to get a job (right away, at least).
Whether you’re a student about to graduate college or an experienced employee curious about a career change, the informational interview can provide valuable, first-hand insight to support your decisions and lay the foundation for your career path. Here are five steps to landing (and perfecting) an informational interview, with tips along the way.
Seek a Subject
You’ll first want to identify a potential interviewee in a field or at a company of interest. Ask your friends and family for candidates and/or reach out to alumni or professional organizations. If you are a student, visit your school’s career center or guidance counselor’s office. Don’t forget to check social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn.
Once you identify a potential subject, do a bit of research before reaching out. How long has the interviewee’s company been in business? What is his or her professional and educational background? What are some of the hottest trends in their industry? Seeking answers to these questions will not only help determine if your subject is the right person for the job, but will also prepare you to conduct the informational interview with utmost proficiency and credibility.
Request the Interview
Convincing someone to take time out of their busy day to speak with you is half the battle, and many people aren’t exactly sure how to ask for an informational interview. In today’s digital age, it’s easy to send a quick email or message on social media. But, keep your message simple and clear (and proofread it before sending). In an informational interview email or letter, state who you are, why you are reaching out, and what action you want the recipient to take. A similar formula applies for a phone call. Inserting an extra detail or two from your research, such as, “I was impressed to see that you worked your way up from an entry-level position in your company to become a manager,” will add a personal touch and emphasize your genuine interest.
If you don’t receive a response or if your subject declines when you ask for an informational interview, move onto another viable contact. Not everyone is going to be receptive to your request. Just avoid being too pushy or following up excessively; another opportunity will arise. Once you have a potential interviewee, be sure to confirm the date and place of your meeting.
Prepare for the Big Day
Based on your research of the interviewee’s company, career field, industry, and professional background, create an agenda and a list of informational interview questions. While you should ask some general questions about their field, the interviewee’s position, and opportunities for advancement, make sure to ask some open-ended questions as well. For example, ask them about their biggest career challenges or to describe their average day. Use informational interview questions to seek advice you can’t readily find anywhere else.
Although the informational interview isn’t about selling yourself and your skills, come prepared with an elevator pitch describing your experience and what you have to offer. You can bring a resume, but only extend this information if the opportunity presents itself. Lastly, plan your wardrobe in advance. The rule of thumb is to dress professionally, just as you would for a job interview. Your attire should convey competency and confidence and help you make a good first impression.
Conduct the Conversation
You will have about 20-30 minutes to gather as much information and advice as you can from your subject. Sticking to your list of questions can keep you on track and make the most of your time, but don’t worry if you or the interviewee strays from the agenda. Go with the flow of the conversation; one response may lead to a new and important topic. If you’re having trouble making a connection with your interviewee, break the ice with a question about him or her – for example, an easy one to answer could be what do you like best about working with this company? Also, maintain a friendly and engaging composure – you are looking to build a relationship, not simply rattle off a list of questions.
At the conclusion of the interview, thank your subject for their time. It is appropriate here to ask if he or she can provide some additional networking referrals. Is there anyone else in the company (or in the industry) that would warrant an introduction? Again, it’s all about networking.
A formal thank you letter or email is a must after your interview (ideally sent one or two days afterward). Express how much you appreciate your subject taking the time to meet with you. Refer to anything in particular that impressed or surprised you about his or her company or career, and share how you plan to apply what you learned to jumpstart your job search. Expressing an authentic interest in the information provided will go a long way. You may also offer to keep in touch with them (hint: add them as a connection on LinkedIn) as you continue on your career path.
While the informational interview may not instantly propel you into a new job, it equips you with unique, first-hand knowledge and advice as you search for your perfect career. So, what are you waiting for? Get out there, make some connections, and start building your professional network with informational interviews.