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Opening the Door with Informational Interviews

An informational interview is a totally different breed than an employment interview. How? Well, when asking for an informational interview you are doing so from a place of research. Conducting an informational interview isn’t about getting a job; it is about gathering information.

Informational interviews provide valuable information about potential industries, companies and their culture, the type of work they do, potential positions where your skill set might fit and the education and qualifications that various positions require. It is your opportunity to ask the questions!

Conducting informational interviews is a great way to transition into another career. When I decided I wanted to make a change from employment counseling to learning and development I did all kinds of informational interviews. How was this helpful? I learned what qualifications companies were looking for, how they did their hiring and what the company structure was like, among other things.

Even more useful, I was able to meet face-to-face with people in my desired field. Making these connections and adding to my network was incredibly valuable and I also got a feel for the company environment. By conducting in-person informational interviews at the company location, I had the opportunity to see employees at work. By going in, I was able to check out their faces and the environment and see if people are generally happy at their jobs, bored out of their minds or couldn’t wait until the end of the day. This is insight that can’t be found on a company website, from a job boards or job websites.

Why would someone be open to doing an info interview with you? Check out this article for more on why most people will give you their time and how to get started.

How to land informational interviews

Use your network

One of the keys to obtaining an informational interview is to contact someone who does the type of work you might want to do. Having their name so you can address them directly will help. LinkedIn is also a great way to get an introduction and so is cold calling. Use your personal network as well to get to the contacts you need.

Develop a phone or email script

The script should contain:

  1. A short sentence or two about your background and experience
  2. A request for a meeting
  3. The amount of time you require. Fifteen minutes is a good amount of time to ask for. The time is key because when people get requests for meetings they may say they don’t have the time, thinking it is going to take an hour. By clearly stating you want 15 minutes – the same amount as a coffee break, folks are more open to meeting with you.

Here’s an example of a cold calling script my client Debbie* used. “Hi, my name is Debbie Clover. I am a recent graduate from UBC and am doing some research into where my skills and qualifications might fit. Would you have 15 minutes to meet with me and discuss your company and role? When might be better this week or next”

Each time Debbie used this script she was granted an informational interview.

Persistence pays

Persistence pays off and so does timing. If you meet with resistance when asking for an informational interview ask if you can call again at a better time. Then ensure you record the time and date to follow up and do so!

Meeting in person is preferred, but in the event your contact cannot do this, be ready to conduct the interview over the phone.

Make sure to ask this question

Develop a list of questions to ask at the interview. One of the best questions to ask at the end of the interview is, “Can you recommend someone else I might talk to.” And when they do, “Can I use your name when I contact them.” This expands your network and provides another person to do an informational interview with. Plus you now have a warm call to make that will open the doors to more informational interviews!

So I got the informational interview…. Now what?

Although this isn’t an employment interview you want to treat it as an interview and take the meeting seriously. Here’s a checklist to follow:

  • Dress appropriately – that means professionally. When in doubt, dress one step above what people in this type of industry/work wear. Avoid too much cologne/perfume or make-up. Don’t chew gum!
  • Develop a list of questions to ask; Check the company website prior to developing your questions to avoid asking anything that is on the company website.
  • Bring a folder or briefcase, containing your questions, a notepad and pen and your resume (only bring out the resume if it is requested, as this is an information interview)
  • Check out where you are going ahead of time so you know how to get there and how long it will take to travel.
  • Arrive a few minutes early (not more than 10 minutes)
  • Avoid chewing gum and turn off your cell phone before the meeting
  • If you have business cards bring them as well and leave one with your contact
  • Remember to smile and be positive!
  • Thank the person for their time at the end of the interview
  • Beware of the time so at the 15 minute mark you mention you will wrap up; schedule yourself for extra time in case the person wants to have more discussion–which is often the case–or offers you a tour

Follow Up

Part of making a great impression is by doing a follow-up. Send a written thank you card after the interview and then check in on a regular basis with your new contact. That way if an opening becomes available down the road you will be one of the first people they will contact.

*Names have been changed to protect client confidentiality

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About the Author Mary Kruger

Mary works with overwhelmed professional women who are stuck in their career, by helping them rise above the competition, get the job they truly want and the money they deserve - faster and with less hassle. She specializes in working with mom’s, (she’s a mom too!) - helping them gain balance, clarity and success, taking back their lives as she did with hers. With over 10 years of coaching, Mary has helped more than 1,200 people overcome the isolation, frustration and discouragement job search can bring. Contact Mary on Noomii or her website to find out how she can help you find the job of your dreams.

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