Informational Interviews: How to Have a Constructive Meeting

Informational Interview

We know a lot about the etiquette of preparing for a job interview, but equally important are informational interviews. To start, what is an informational interview?

An informational interview is a meeting, often initiated at the request of a job seeker or person looking to gain inside knowledge about a position, company or industry. An informational interview does not take place as part of a formal hiring process. Instead, it is purely informational and mostly for the benefit of the person asking for the interview. An informational interview is referred to as an interview because one person generally asks most of the questions. An informational interview should not be confused with an informal interview, which takes place as part of the process by which an employer assesses the qualifications and fit of a job applicant, albeit using an informal setting.

Following are some tips on how to make the most out of an informational interview.

When Would You Go on an Informational Interview?

You would normally want to schedule an informational interview under the following circumstances:

  • You are thinking of changing to a new industry or you want to know what a particular career path is like.
  • You want to get your foot in the door at a company that doesn't currently have an opening, but where you think your skills are a fit. Getting to know someone within the company means that you have an inside source when an opening becomes available, and someone who can introduce you to the hiring manager.
  • You meet someone interesting at an event and want to know more about what they do.
  • You are trying to reconnect with a former colleague if you are re-entering the workforce.

What Can You Do to Improve Your Chances of a "Yes?"

You can ask someone for an informational interview, but it doesn't mean that the person will agree. Follow these tips to increase your chances of receiving a positive response:

  • Make sure to stress the word "informational" and explain to them exactly why you want one; i.e. you are considering a career change or you want to know more about their successful career path.
  • Keep it short. Usually, suggesting coffee rather than lunch is going to get more interest from a prospect. Lunch sounds like a commitment; coffee can be brief. And assure them that you only want 30 minutes of their time. The conversation may well stretch past that, but by putting a time limit on it, you make it far more likely they will accept.
  • Make sure the location is convenient to them, not you. Go to their office or find a coffee place close to it so that they aren't spending transit time.  If they seem more amenable to a phone conversation, accept that offer instead of pushing for an in-person meeting.
  • Mention the person who gave you their name, if it was a mutual acquaintance. They might be more likely to do a favor on behalf of a friend or work associate rather than just accepting a request from someone out of the blue.

How Can You Make Sure the Informational Interview Is a Success?

Many of the same rules of traditional interviews apply to informational interviews. You want to do your homework before the meeting, show up on time and put your most professional self forward. However, the one way where the informational interview differs from the job interview is that the person accepting a request for an informational interview does so benevolently. In a job interview, both sides are looking to fill a need.

Here are 3 simple tips to make sure things run smoothly:

  • Have questions prepared ahead of time and make sure they are not ones that "anyone can answer.” For example, do ample research on the field in question so you are not asking very basic questions the answers to which you could easily find out online. You want to use their time to your best advantage so ask about their specific career path or experience.
  • Be respectful of the time they have allotted. When you sense that you are getting near the end of the appointment, be the one to offer to wrap it up.  If they want to continue talking, they will.
  • Always ask if they have suggestions of someone else you should talk to. That's how you are able to keep the interviews rolling from one person to the next. Now you have the golden phrase "So and so suggested I talk to you."

Informational interviews are one of the best ways to uncover possibilities in the hidden job market. Take advantage of them and put your job search on the fast track.

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