Informational interviews, “informationals,” informational networking – whatever you call it, it’s a must! No matter where you’re looking for a job – it could be within your current industry, in a new field, or even within your current organization – networking is where it’s at. Informational interviews are an easy, low pressure networking opportunity to turn the tables on an interview. It’s your chance to flip the script and interview the company, while getting your name and face in front of folks who will be hiring.
How many times have you heard, “it’s all about who you know,” to land a job? Well, it’s true. You’re much more likely to land your next job because you know someone at the company than you are by being just another piece of paper on the stack of resumes. Getting to know people, networking, takes some time and work, but the payoff can mean landing your dream job. So I encourage you to start pounding the pavement and setting up some informational interviews. Here’s how:
Step 1 – The Set Up.
No one likes to cold call (or “cold email”), so if you know someone at a company you’re interested in, start with that person. Either set up an information interview with them or ask them to connect you with someone else. It’s human nature to help others, so all you have to do is ask and I practically guarantee you’ll get a “yes” for an informational interview. Also, people love to tell others what they know, so take advantage of this common human idiosyncrasy to get your foot in the door!
Other tips for setting up your first informational interview –
- Be a student. If you’re in school, in a certificate program, or just taking a class here and there, play up the “student card.” Or, if you recently graduated, say that. If it’s been a while and you can’t claim to be a student anymore, then I recommend coming at it from a “learning” standpoint. As in, “I’d love to learn more about Company X or the field of Y.” Again, people like to give other people advice and share what they know, so let them know you’re a student and/or looking to learn more, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how gracious people are with their time.
- Don’t say you’re looking for a job. It’s obviously implied. Information interviews are most effective when they are casual, low pressure, and about learning. This is your chance to find out about the company in a relaxed environment. I’ve found it can make people uncomfortable if you come right out and ask for a job, especially when the proposition was for “learning.” So save the “ask” for another time or take a different tactic (see questions below).
- Keep it cool. Suggest some times that work for you or ask when they are available in the next week or so. Meet for coffee or even at the office. I don’t recommend meeting over drinks for various reasons. If you do meet someone at their office, make sure to ask for a quick tour. Generally, 30-45 minutes is a good amount of time to expect for an informational interview. It’s quick, engaging, and you should be able to glean a lot of information if you ask the right questions.
Example information interview email:
I received your contact information from Sarah at ABC Corp. She recommended I speak with you because I’m studying biology at STU and would like to learn more about a career in marine science. Do you have some time next week to meet for coffee? I’d really like to hear about your career path and what it takes to succeed in the field of sea horse genetics.
Step 2 – Come prepared.
Whether you’re familiar or not with the company where the informational interviewee works, at the very least, review the company website to get the gist of what they do. Think about how that industry fits with your interests. Why are you interested in this company? What seems appealing about it? Know yourself and what your strengths and skills are. An informational interview is mostly an opportunity to learn, but it’s also a chance to talk up your skills and career goals and how they align with the company.
Tips for keeping the conversation humming –
- Bring a list of 6-10 questions to ask.
- Please describe your role at [name of company].
- Can you describe the career path that brought you where you are?
- How would you describe the culture at [company]?
- What is your favorite part of working here?
- How is employee development and growth fostered?
- How do decisions get made at [name of company]?
- As [company] grows, are there opportunities you can think of for someone with my skill set?
- If you meet at the office, be sure to ask for a quick tour and if there’s anyone there you can talk to.
- Other industry specific questions.
- Keep things casual, so go ahead an ask questions as the conversation evolves organically.
- Bring something to write on and write with. You never know when you’ll hear something you need to jot down or remind yourself of later.
- Keep it positive. This is a general rule whether it’s a formal interview or an informal informational interview. Even if you’re looking to leave your current company because things are terrible, find the silver lining and highlight what you have to offer or how you would like to grow. It can suck the life out of the room quickly if it seems like you’re complaining or bashing. So find the positive spin on things and keep the conversation light!
- Keep them talking. Psychology tells, the more people talk about themselves, the more they like you! So all the more reason to come prepared with questions.
Step 3 – Ask for more.
As you’re wrapping things up, some good closing questions to ask are:
- Are there professional associations you recommend I join?
- I’m fine-tuning my resume, would you mind taking a quick look at it? (Definitely bring your resume!)
- It’s been great talking to you and I’d love to learn more, is there anyone else here [at Company X] you recommend I speak with?
- Do you know anyone at [another company] that I should speak with?
Step 4 – Say “Thank you.”
In the digital age, I don’t think it’s necessary to send a thank you card. It may even come across as a bit too much. So, just like you would for a “real” interview, send the person you met with a short email, preferably within 24-48 hours, to let them know how much you appreciated their time and mention something memorable you spoke about or learned.
You’re now on your way to finding the company that’s the right fit for you. Good luck and happy informational interviewing!
Now that you’re an informational interview-ing expert, be sure to brush up on your Influencing Skills so you can get the most out of people, from your boss to bestie.