I figured it’s time to talk a little about how you can get the most out of an informational interview, since they can play a key part in any good job search.
From the Work Coach Cafe Career Dictionary:
An informational interview is a meeting or phone call with someone you hope will offer some leads to help you find a job. You may in fact wind up meeting someone who knows directly about a job opening either in his or her company or through someone he knows…but more likely you will be looking to get information to help you find leads and/or names to call where you could use your informational contact’s name to help you get through to someone who does have or know of an actual job.
What you want to get out of informational interviews
You’re looking for job leads as well as information about your particular field of interest that may help you in your job search. You’re also looking to establish lasting networking relationships where possible. An informational contact today may even become a lifelong business connection.
Your job is to engage the person with your personality and enthusiasm so that they actually want to help. Asking about how they got to where they are may be a good way to start to connect. It’s also a good time to ask for their candid advice on your job search – even knowledge of things holding you back is useful. And the best way to end an informational – other than with gratitude, a smile, and a handshake – is making sure to ask for a name or two (if you haven’t already gotten them) before you leave.
How you can get the most out of informational interviews
In a way, informationals are a lot like plain old job interviews. While in most cases you’re not looking for a job offer from the person you’re interviewing with, your goal is still to be as personable and engaging as possible while making your case that you are indeed someone they’d like to help or even champion. People love to help. And the best way to help them want to help you is to:
- Be yourself
- Listen carefully and stay in the moment (meaning don’t rush ahead thinking about the next question while they’re still answering the last one.)
- Help them get excited about your clarity of vision and determination.
- Help them want to invest in you, your dreams and your future.
- Give them feedback about things that especially resonate with you.
- Ask questions when you don’t get something. This is for YOU.
- Ask questions about the field.
- Ask for advice on where else to look for good networking contacts and any specific people you might speak with.
- Ask for anything else the person might want to suggest to improve your chances.
- Finally, ask if you may keep in touch to let them know how you’re doing. (A nice way to build an ongoing relationship and maybe even a potential lifelong business ally.)
And don’t forget to say thank you!
If someone takes time out of their busy day to give you an informational interview or advice of any kind, make sure you let them know how much you appreciate what they did. And while you’re at it…mean it. No one has to help you. But if someone does agree to make time to give you an informational interview, it’s usually from the heart. And a sincere thank you that includes some specifics you learned (so the person knows you actually got something out of it) goes a long long way! As does taking the time during the interview to ask a little about the other person and, at some point (even much later), seeing if there is any way you can help them. Networking is a two-way street wherever possible.)
Remember that an informational interview is a pleasant conversation and they are there to help you. So don’t fire question after question at them or get into rants or tangents. Also, be aware of their time and take cues from the way they respond. If you are asking about something they are not especially showing interest in answering, move on to other topics. And if they are signaling they need to end the interview, don’t keep asking questions. This shows respect for their time and also a little about your own people skills.
For more on informational interviews:
About the author…
Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, Career Nook and on Google+.