‘Informational Interviews’ – The Ultimate Networking Tool

Posted on Sep 20 2013 - 10:56am by Tyler Watkins

Interviews

If you’ve been on the job hunt for a while, and aren’t getting any traction – you may feel like there’s nowhere left to go. You’ve sent out what seems like hundreds of resumes, without any job interviews lined up in the near future. Even though it feels like you’re completely stuck, you can’t forget to leverage your networking skills to their maximum capacity. “But I’ve been networking?!” you say. Sure, you’ve probably lined up some nice references for yourself, and been given some good leads on places to apply – however, it’s time to take things up a notch. “Informational interviews” are excellent for several reasons; they express your initiative and enthusiasm, which plant the seed for future employment opportunities; they show the interviewee how much you value their expertise, instantly creating a positive professional relationship that will grow over time; and best of all – informational interviews are simply excellent learning experiences!

Without actually working a given job yourself; there’s simply no better way to learn firsthand about a position, company, or industry than to listen to an experienced individual share their experiences and opinions there. Additionally, because you aren’t actually being interviewed for a job, the high stress levels of typical job interviews are mostly absent. Instead, informational interviewees take on an attitude of eagerness; wanting to coach and inspire you to succeed. The typical “grilling” associated with job interviews is gone, replaced by motivation and determination. Read on, and learn how to schedule, and get the most from your next informational interview – it just might land you a job!

Informational Interviews Defined

While a standard “job interview” would involve a prospective employer asking you questions to consider you for an open position; the informational interview puts you in the position of interviewer – where you’ll ask someone targeted questions about their unique job experiences, to learn from and create a deeper network with them. As mentioned, the stress level is infinitely lower than a job interview, because neither party is worried about grilling or being grilled on the basis of actual employment. Sure, the prospect of immediately getting a job is not there – but this mood shift is infinitely beneficial to you, as you’re bound to leave a better impression on someone who wants to help you vs. needs to grill you.

Networking Process: How to get Informational Interviews

Most people assume their available network of people they can access for informational interviews is much smaller than it actually is.  In addition to family, friends, and past employers – don’t be afraid to go further, politely requesting the contact information of anyone your existing network has ever mentioned that they know, even if you’ve never met them. No matter how loose the connection, if you can get a lead to ask for the interview, there’s absolutely nothing to lose. Even telephone interviews are worthwhile. In asking for an informational interview, simply send a polite message asking for about 20 minutes of the interviewee’s time to learn about their job and industry. Talk about how “you view their expert knowledge of the industry as a huge asset to your professional experience.” This may sound like just flattery, but it’s the actually the truth – and the interviewee will feel genuinely valued because you asked them for their input. When the interviewee accepts your request, make sure to thank them; setting up a meeting time that’s ideal for their busy schedule.

Preparing for an Informational Interview

In preparing for an informational interview, there are many similarities to preparing for a standard job interview. Before the meeting, it’s essential to learn as much as possible about the person you’ll meet with, the company they work for, and their unique role there. You’ll want to dress professionally, and bring a current copy of your resume (but don’t take it out unless the interviewee happens to ask for it!) You’d just hate to not have your resume if someone wants to see it. It’s also a great idea to print some basic business cards with your contact information – they’re affordable, and leave an impression of professionalism with your contact after you leave the interview. Though you’ll primarily be the one driving the topics and questions of this meeting; prepare some answers of your own, to basic career based questions (your education, strengths and weaknesses, career goals, etc.) When these bases have been covered, your only remaining item to prepare is the list of targeted, dynamic questions you’ll be asking the interviewee…

During the interview: Asking the Right Questions

It’s crucial to ask good questions during the informational interview; both so you learn as much as possible, and so you make the best impression on your interviewee. You should have already researched the answers to many of the questions you’ll ask (the interviewee’s job description, the company history) you still need to ask these questions in person, for the purpose of getting their distinctive perspective. Listen very carefully to your interviewee’s answers, and be sure to “read between the lines” to hear what they can’t say out loud. Remember, the advice you’ll get about this industry and career path is the invaluable real thing – exactly what you can’t get from things like generic guides and industry publications. As far as the questions themselves go, here are:

The top 15 questions you need to ask during an informational interview:

  1. Can you please tell me about this company, and exactly what you do here?
  2. What does a typical work day look like for you?
  3. Are some seasons tougher than others in this industry? Why?
  4. What is the company/corporate culture like here?
  5. What are your favorite and least favorite things about working in this business?
  6. How often do employees typically choose to leave this business, and why?
  7. To excel in this industry, what types of training/education do you typically need?
  8. How would you see my career developing at this company, given my experience and education?
  9. Is this industry shrinking or growing – what state is it in?
  10. What are the types of individuals you typically see excelling in this business?
  11. What is a typical/reasonable salary someone can earn in this industry?
  12. Can you tell me some important leaders of this industry, and where I might research/follow them?
  13. Can you please tell me some industry journals and publications I should be aware of/follow?
  14. Would it be possible to get the names and contact information of anyone else in this industry, or at your company that I might talk further about this career path?
  15. Can you think of anything else we haven’t covered I should know?

Remember to cover number fourteen in particular – you can build your network quickly by leveraging one interview into another. As you successfully turn one informational interview into three or four, your reputation will grow. With that kind of success, you’ll be a highly attractive candidate for their next job opening.

Additionally, remember to interject some social/report building comments into the conversation as you move through the questions. These are things like jokes, mentions of people you know in common, and basic questions about family, etc. This is great standard practice for any relationship you want to build – so make sure you create the same sense of fellowship within your informational interview.

Following Up: From Informational Interview to Job Interview

Once you’ve worked your way through several different informational interviews, you’ll accumulated some great assets in the knowledge shared by your interviewee. Review and study this information to understand if you really do like this career field, and how you can keep pushing yourself to achieve a job there.

Aside from career knowledge, the greatest benefit of these interviews is the valuable networking power you’ll takeaway – if you follow up and do it right. Make sure to thank the interviewee in writing, including all your professional contact information (just in case they want to pass it along to any employers!) If done politely, and without assumption – there’s no limit to how much enthusiasm and gratitude you can show toward your contact for their time and wisdom. It will always be well received, and believe me – it will pay off big time. If your interviewee has been kind enough to refer you to another of their contacts, be sure to let them know how that worked out, and a bit of the unique knowledge you gained there. Never let a bit of your contact’s effort go unappreciated, or unnoticed.

If you have initiative to ask for people’s time; and the the social ability to make great impressions on them – you can get jobs from informational interviews. When people like and respect you, they’ll want to give you job opportunities when they have the power to do so – it’s as simple as that. When you don’t get a job, you get invaluable career advice. With informational interviews, you have nothing to lose – and everything to gain.

Photo Credit: Flickr/David Davies

About the Author
Tyler Watkins

Tyler Watkins is a blogger and ecommerce enthusiast, he writes among a wide variety of subjects.