An informational interview is a powerful networking tool that gives you a glimpse into what a role or company culture is like within a certain organization and industry. Conducting this kind of conversation allows potential employers or co-workers to evaluate your qualifications, cultural fit, and genuine interest. Furthermore, this helps determine whether or not this career path or industry is right for you. A successful informational interview may lead to a future hire and other networking opportunities, so here are guidelines to follow when initiating and building the connection.
Generate Leads and Tap Into Your Network
A recent survey found that both active and passive job seekers primarily use networking to find a job. Someone in your established network of contacts is more likely to give advice or introduce you to someone more suited to help. Alumni databases, social media connections, and personal contacts are great resources to generate leads. Although there are numerous potential connections to make, it is important to connect with and meet a handful of contacts that are able to validate your abilities and refer you to other well-connected individuals. To stay organized and maintain a narrow list of leads, create a spreadsheet of industries, companies, roles, and potential contacts as your foundation.
Craft the Right Email
Once you have established a list of people you want to reach out to, it is essential to craft the perfect email in order to initiate an informational interview. Sometimes it is difficult and nerve-wracking to start the conversation so a few discussion points to include are:
- Your educational and career background and interests
- How and where you received the person’s contact information
- Why you are interested in the company or role
- Your interest in meeting or talking on the phone
Just like you would adjust your resume and cover letter, it is important to tailor your emails based on the organization and role. Most people are willing to connect and give advice, but if a certain individual is unresponsive to your email, don’t become attached and move on to the next person.
Choose the Best Setting
We all have busy schedules, but it’s important to be mindful of your contacts’ calendars and make the meeting convenient for them, in terms of location and time. They will most likely request to meet somewhere near their office, so try to find a local coffee shop, or even somewhere outside if it’s nice out. In order to be cognizant of their schedule, ensure them that your meeting will take less than a half hour and arrive early. Emphasize that you value the time they are taking out of their schedule and that you fully appreciate the opportunity to speak with them.
Do Your Research
Similar to job interview preparation, you want to show that you are truly interested in the role and you are prepared to discuss potential opportunities. Research the employer completely to see if they have been in the news recently, achieved a certain accomplishment, or received an award. It also helps to do some research on the person you are meeting. This benefits both parties because it becomes easier for you to craft conversation topics and questions, and it shows that you have done a thorough job researching the employer and their current work.
It is vital to remember that this is not a typical interview, and the purpose of informational interviews is to gather information. It is unprofessional to ask about topics such as pay rate and job leads. Whether the informational interview takes place in person or over the phone, stay engaged and maintain typical interview etiquette.
Ask Meaningful Questions
The difference between regular interviews and informational interviews is that you are most likely leading the conversation. This person took time out of their day to speak to you, so it is important to ask questions not readily available on the employer’s website. In order to make the most out of your conversation, here is a list of good questions to ask:
- What is your role and what does a typical day look like?
- What is the interview process like and why did you choose this organization over another?
- What is the work environment like? Do you work with a team?
- How often do you interact with your boss? How often do you receive performance reviews/feedback?
- What do you enjoy most and least about your position?
- What quantitative/qualitative qualities does your company look for when hiring candidates?
Surrounding the conversation around focused topics shows that you conducted basic research on the organization and are genuinely interested in establishing a connection.
Send a Follow-Up Email
After the meeting or phone call, do not forget to show your appreciation for the other person’s time in an email. You want to continuously stamp a good impression in their mind and cement your interest. Even if the potential job or employer doesn’t end up working out, you have still created a solid connection and you want to preserve that working relationship going forward. If you do not know where to start, here’s how to write the perfect thank you email.
Informational interviews are a great way to establish new relationships and build your network, so it is vital to take time and effort to maintain those connections. Even if the organization you are interested in isn’t currently hiring, conducting an informational interview keeps you in the other person’s mind and fast-tracks your resume once something becomes available down the line.
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