Informational interviews are meetings or phone calls with someone you hope will offer leads to help you find a job. You may in fact wind up meeting someone who knows directly about a job opening either in their company or through someone he knows. But not everyone has an open position or knows of one directly.
So more likely you will be looking to get useful information from your informational interviews to help you find leads and / or names to call. And where you can now use your informational’s name to help you get through to someone who does have or know of an actual job. Or know someone else who might!
Informational interview contacts, often a result of social networking, can be found through online research, newspapers and magazines, friends, relatives, business acquaintances, former teachers, fellow alumni, an online community or professional network. Or even someone you meet at a social gathering — or in a supermarket line.
And If you don’t yet know it, Linkedin is a great place to start. Make sure you take the time to create a profile that projects a person someone would want to get to know — or hire. Also target your experience and statements to the job you want next. And a natural, pleasant-looking picture sure helps.
Focus on outcome can lose you the chance to connect
It’s best to go into informational interviews NOT looking for that person to give you a job (although stranger things have happened), but instead ask them to become an ally in your job search. It also helps to show sincere interest in the person — and not just see them narrowly as a means to an end.
Remember: This person could become a potential ally for the rest of your career. And you may also one day be able to return the favor, which is the path to building strong, longtime allies.
Some informational interviews gladly offer names and ideas (which may lead to other names and ideas). And others mentally or physically check their watches and hope you will go away.
Hint: Talking too much about yourself without any give and take — and not reading the cues — can be a big turnoff.
Most informational interviews want to help
My experience is that most people are happy to help, as best they can. In fact, it can feel good to help others — especially those whose story / energy / attitude you feel a connection to.
So stay polite regardless (you never know), but let go mentally of the ones that don’t pan out. Focus instead on finding people who want to help get you to that new job or career. Maybe even a potential mentor!
Your main job is to engage your informational interviews with your personality and enthusiasm, so they actually want to help. Asking something about them — perhaps how they got to where they are — may be a good way to start to connect. Research ahead of time helps.
It’s also a good time to ask for their candid advice on your job search. Even knowledge of things holding you back is useful. And the best way to end an informational –- other than with gratitude, a smile, and a handshake –- is making sure to ask for a name or two (if you haven’t already gotten that) before you go.
⇒ EXTRA: Why Networking Matters So Darn Much
[Article updated in 2020]
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