Use Informational Interviews to Jump Start Your Job Search, Change Careers or Network for Success

Posted by Rob Riggins

coffee meetingWhen I graduated from college, my sister gave me 10 high-level contacts at major corporations to pursue for informational interviews. I couldn’t wrap my head around why these people would want to spend time with me, or what on earth I was going to ask them. That’s probably because I viewed these meetings as job interviews instead of information gathering discussions.

Informational interviews are really a form of networking, so maybe we should rebrand them as “networking interviews,” which sounds much less daunting. Networking interviews are valuable when you’re:

  • Considering changing careers and seeking guidance.
  • Wanting to network in or connect with targeted employers.
  • Looking for contacts to further your job search or career.
  • Seeking a mentor for your career.
  • Making connections and gathering information for your transition from government or the military to the private sector.

Your goal is to learn, gather information, and develop a relationship with the person you’re meeting. Be sure to go into this type of meeting with an open mind and a positive attitude.

When you schedule the meeting with the contact, present it as a short 20-minute discussion so they know you won’t be taking up a lot of their time. A coffee or face-to-face meeting is your best bet, but if someone will only talk to you on the phone don’t turn down that opportunity. Many folks today don’t want to take the time to meet with you face-to-face, but it’s often more effective if you can convince them to do so.

Steps for a Successful Informational Interview

  1. Be early if meeting in person. You want to get the best spot in the venue where you’re meeting and be prepared to greet your contact. But don’t be too early if you’re meeting them at their office.
  2. If meeting at a restaurant or coffee shop, offer to pay for the other person’s purchase. You’re the host in this situation and you’re taking their valuable time, so it’s your responsibility to offer to pay.
  3. Respect their schedule and don’t run over your allotted time unless they tell you it’s ok to do so.
  4. Do your homework ahead of time so you’re not asking basic questions. View their LinkedIn profile – Google “[individual’s name] LinkedIn” if you do not have a LinkedIn profile yourself, to view the public version of their profile. Review their experience prior to your meeting, as well as other pertinent info such as the industry, their profession or the company they work for. Your goal is to ask insightful and thoughtful questions. You’re trying to build your network in addition to gathering information. Present yourself as a prepared professional.
  5. Ask about their company, their department or any advice they may have for your search. But also ask about their career goals and plans, because you might be able to help them.
  6. Make sure you have developed your elevator speech so you can articulate what you’re looking for in a professional and succinct fashion.
  7. Thank them and ask if they have a contact they could recommend you talk to for more information, if appropriate.
  8. Follow up after the meeting with a thank you note. If you committed to any specific follow up, such as providing a contact or forwarding an article, make sure you do so.

If you want to continue the relationship and it will be fruitful for both of you, make sure to keep in touch. If not, move on. Not every networking discussion needs to be continued. But you’ve got to have the discussion first to figure that out.

If you’re struggling to determine what is appropriate to ask, some sample questions to get the discussion going are:

  • What is your typical day like?
  • What has your career path been?
  • What are the keys to a successful career in your profession?
  • What professional associations have you found to be the most beneficial?
  • What do you enjoy most about your work and what would you change if you could?
  • What challenges are facing your company, profession or industry?
  • What do you do to stay current in your field?
  • What types of positions are available at your company?

Are there any questions you have used in an informational interviews that you found effective?


This entry was posted on Sunday, February 07, 2016 9:42 pm

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