Informational Interview Tactics Part 2 | No BS Job Search Advice
While informational interviews can be quite helpful, there are several boo boos people make while scheduling and conducting them. These blunders might lead to a bad first impression, tarnishing your professional brand. Here are some tips for making the most of them:
Getting an interview.
This is often the most challenging part. After all, you’re asking them to devote 20-30 minutes of their time to sharing their hard-won expertise about their jobs and businesses. Why would they agree to it in the first place? It all depends on how you ask.
Do your homework.
One of the most important variables is conducting thorough research about who to approach. Make a list of the firms you want to work for, as well as the roles or job titles you want to pursue. Be honest with yourself. Celebrity CEOs won’t speak with you. Someone in a target company’s sales or marketing departments might. First, look at your own network.
If you have connections, use them. If you share a connection, that’s also good. However, this isn’t always possible. If you’re using a connection, the interview will be conducted as a courtesy to your mutual acquaintance. Your target person may have an ulterior reason for agreeing to it if there is no referral or relationship. They may be aware of an upcoming job opening at their company and be on the lookout for someone. When making initial contact, here’s how to handle both scenarios:
If you know someone who works for a company you’re interested in, perhaps a former colleague or a college roommate, when you make that contact, ask who you should contact and if you may use them as a reference. Attending the same university could be another relationship. You can begin by saying something like, “Janet Rivera suggested I contact you about…” or “As a fellow alumnus of Rutgers…” If you have a connection, it is often easier to get someone to sit down with you for an informational interview.
If you don’t, consider this like a cold call. It doesn’t rule out the possibility of getting on someone’s schedule, but it may be more challenging. Look for your target on LinkedIn, then make your contact as respectful, clear, and relevant as possible.
Use LinkedIn… but not for contact information.
If you can avoid it, find your target people on LinkedIn but don’t message them there. Who among us isn’t bombarded by LinkedIn spam? Plus, people who are involved with their work don’t necessarily check it like they do their own email. Use their work email instead if you have it or can get it. Also, avoid making phone calls. Why? No one accepts calls from strangers? Calls go to voicemail if we don’t have their number in our phone. Much better to start with email that they can read, digest, and respond to.
Make a professional, respectful pitch that includes a clear explanation of why you want to speak with them. You don’t want to come across as “one of those people.” Discuss their background and employment, as well as how it pertains to you attaining your objectives. It demonstrates that you have done basic preparation work. Keep things simple and straightforward. “I’d appreciate your assistance/insights/advice on your company/industry/career,” you can say. You may also say something along the lines of, “I saw your YouTube video about XYZ and I’d want to talk with you more about it.”
Don’t take yourself too seriously.
If the individual is quite senior to you, it may be appropriate to address them formally for your initial cold contact, using Mr., Ms., or Dr. Always begin with “Dear first name.”
Propose a brief meeting.
Leaving your contact information and encouraging them to contact you is pointless. Be clear about when you’d want to meet for coffee, have a phone call, or use Zoom, and note that if those times don’t work, you’re willing to be flexible. Allow them to say yes or no with ease. “I’d love to get you a quick coffee to talk about…” or “I’m free next week at any time that is convenient for you,” for example.
Please be patient. It’s inconvenient to keep pestering them for an answer. If it’s been more than a week, send a quick follow-up message. If you still don’t hear back, presume the person doesn’t want to meet and leave them alone.
You’ve received a response from your target and have an interview scheduled for the following week. Now what? An informational interview requires a level of preparation to it. Here are some guidelines to follow.
Do your homework.
In addition to reviewing your research about the person you previously did, go into detail about the company. Learn about their products and services, as well as the names of its senior executives. Check out their most recent press releases. Also, if you’re learning about a new career, do some additional prep about that as well. You don’t want them to be the starting point for your research. Before you start, learn everything you can about the work.
Prepare and have your questions in front of you.
Unlike a job interview, you are the one who asks the questions. It’s critical that you have your list ready ahead of time. Make sure they’re well-thought out, represent your research into the individual and the company, and are designed to provide you with the information you want. The last thing you want to do is to ask basic questions about their business.
Don’t be scared to get down to business.
This is your opportunity to learn more about the job or company. “What do you like the least about your job?” you might ask. “What do you wish you had known before you went in?” and other probing questions.
Dress for the occasion.
This may be obvious. But we’re going to say it regardless. Even if you’re doing it online, dress as if you’re going to a job interview.
Take a glance at the background of your Zoom or Skype session.
Make sure the image your contact person sees behind you is professional and gives a good first impression. Also, if you are living in a roommate situation, make sure they leave you alone throughout the interview. Perhaps your wife/husband or partner could take the kids to the park, along with your dog. (There’s no way to deal with some house cats!) Interview interruptions are entertaining to watch on the internet, but they’re distracting and even irritating while you’re in the middle of a chat.
Make sure it’s not all about you.
It’s crucial to introduce oneself, but keep the conversation there to a minimum. The majority of the session should be devoted to information gathering and the information that they can supply. Inquire about how they got into their field, what they enjoy about it, and what makes them so successful. Always remember to listen actively and attentively.
After you’ve discussed your objectives, tell them about your career goals and how you plan to achieve them, and ask for help along the way. They should know you’re a passionate, engaged, and dedicated individual who wants to work in job XYZ or company ABCD.
Be respectful of their time.
This individual is a working and took time out of their day to help you. Work around their schedule, be flexible, and attempt to get everything done in half an hour or less unless they specifically were open to a longer meeting.
Do not seek employment.
This is not a job interview, but rather an informational meeting. It’s also unlikely to be with HR or a hiring manager (unless that’s your intended career path). This person is can’t give you a job (usually), and asking is impolite. “I’d love to work at this company,” however, is entirely okay. Do you have any suggestions on how I should go about doing that?” “Can you tell me what your firm looks for when they hire someone in your department/business unit/division?” or “Can you tell me what your organization looks for when they hire?”
Be prepared if the informational meeting turns into a job interview . . . but don’t expect it
If the meeting goes well and your contact directs the conversation toward a position discussion, that’s a different situation.
Bring your target list with you.
It’s likely that your well-connected contact will offer to introduce you to senior executives at other companies you’re interested in. If that’s the case, make a list of the companies that really important. This is an informational gathering, so don’t be shy.
Send a thank-you note or email afterward.
Follow-up is crucial, and a thank-you note for their giving you time and career advice is necessary. Make them aware of how much you value their time and opinion.
Stay in touch.
Keep them up to date on your work and plans. If you find a job, tell them about it and explain how their guidance helped you get there. If they suggested you speak with someone else, let them know you did and how it went, AND thank them for the recommendation. This is a really effective technique to expand your network. You never know when you’ll require their advice again.
Ⓒ The Big Game Hunter, Inc., Asheville, NC 2022
ABOUT JEFF ALTMAN, THE BIG GAME HUNTER
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, as well as executive job search coaching, job coaching, and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with over 2300 episodes.
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