Informational interviews are critical to a successful job search. Many job seekers don’t do them at all which puts them at a significant disadvantage in the search and others do not do them well so they miss a valuable opportunity to differentiate themselves. Informational interviewing is the goal of most networking connections. When you ask for a networking meeting you are requesting an information interview.
Why do an informational interview?
- Learn about the company, the culture, current issues, career paths, specific roles, etc. from an insider
- Gain insights you may not be able to find online
- Build an advocate within the company for future support
What can you gain from an informational interview?
- Learn about the contact’s industry, company and/or work environment and culture
- Gain insight into specific jobs, roles, functions and departments
- Hear advice on how you can translate your skills and experience to new industry, company or role
- Obtain names of other recommended networking contacts
- Gather recommendations for professional associations you should join
- Gain insight into your career options
- Establish an inside contact within the organization
What an informational interview is not
- It is not asking for a job or applying for a specific position, instead it is an information gathering adventure and hopefully the start of a mutually beneficial relationship
How should I prepare for an informational interview?
- Be respectful of the contact’s time and position yourself positively and professionally by being very well prepared
- Research the company in advance – overview of products, services, target markets, competitors, financial performance, recent news, etc.
- Research the person you will be meeting with – google them, check Linked In, the company web site
- Think about what you can offer the contact – can you share networking contacts, professional association connections, information based on shared interests, etc.
- Define your goals for the meeting clearly
- Identify questions you plan to ask to support your goals
Should I bring a resume to a networking meeting?
- It would be better to bring a networking profile to share. It highlights and summarizes your past experience but also includes what you hope to do and your target companies. It makes it easier for a contact to identify opportunities to assist you.
- If you bring a resume, keep in your portfolio until asked for it.
- Never open the meeting with a resume. It could ensure a very short meeting.
How can I ensure a successful information interview?
- Arrive a few minutes early. Be sure you know in advance how to get there and be prepared with a photo id in case it is needed at security.
- Dress as the successful business professional you aspire to be. Make a good first impression.
- Bring business cards and a note pad so you can take notes. This demonstrates that you are engaged and that you value the information and insights being shared.
- Establish rapport with the individual and thank them for meeting with you.
- Find common ground – the person who referred you, alumni connection, etc.
- Clarify the purpose of the meeting, this assures them you are not asking for a job. Instead focus on expanding your professional network, learning more about specific careers and companies.
- Ask questions and take notes.
- Ask if they would be willing to connect via LinkedIn.
- Answer their questions. Don’t ramble.
- Ask for advice and information.
- Request referrals – who do they know that might benefit you.
- Always thank them for their time and insights.
- Keep them posted down the road.
- Send a handwritten thank you note – it will help them remember you.
- Demonstrate your enthusiasm – remember to smile.
- Pay attention – you can pick up clues about the work environment and the culture.
- Remember, one person’s opinion may not be representative of the whole company. Talk to multiple people in the same organization if possible.
What are the next steps?
- Always send a handwritten thank you note within 24 hours of your meeting.
- If you asked about connecting via LinkedIn and they said yes, send a customized request to connect.
- Keep them posted periodically on your process and let them know if something they recommended is very helpful to you.