Informational interviews have the potential to yield significant benefits, assuming you have the right approach. Some people make the mistake of approaching them in a very casual manner, sitting back and letting the interviewee do all the work. Others may prepare for the meeting, but leave without key questions being answered.
If someone is gracious enough to give you their time, it’s critical to utilize that time to your best advantage.
Here’s our “Take Five” on how to handle an informational interview:
Treat It Seriously – This is both an opportunity to get information and present yourself for future opportunities. There are many examples of people who went in for informational interviews and ended up being hired. Given this, dress appropriately and be on time. Start off by thanking them for their time and let them know you have a list of questions you would like to ask. Reassure them that you will stick to the time allotted. When the time draws near, say “I know I only have 5 minutes left and there’s one more question I have.” This signals to them that you are respectful of their time and keep to your commitments. If they want to go beyond that, that’s their decision.
Tell Them About Your Interest – Take a few minutes to describe how you became interested and why you sparked to this field. Showing your enthusiasm for the position will reinforce why they should feel good about taking the time to meet with you. Briefly tell them what you know about this field so they will have a platform for the discussion. Obviously, you both share some interests and by explaining yours, you will create the potential for additional bonding.
Have Your Questions Ready – Make it your goal to leave with the three most important questions answered. Organize them so you get answers to the most important questions first. Here are a few examples: How do you spend most of your time? Can you give me “a day in your life”? What’s the most important skill I need in order to be successful? (Show them your resume) “What do I need to strengthen in order to be ready? How do I break in? What is the normal career path? How did you get to be where you are today? What do you know now, that you wish you had known when you started? What organizations should I join and what publications should I read? Is there anything I haven’t asked that I should?
Ask For A Referral – You may feel uncomfortable asking for a referral, since the person has just given you some of their time. However, remember that people are generally happy to help and it also gives them a reason to reach out to one of their contacts. Asking for a referral is an opportunity for further networking in the industry. Ask the person who else they would recommend you speak with. It could be someone inside or outside of the company. The more people you talk to, the better perspective you will have. It will also demonstrate to the person that you are driven, which separates you from many others.
Follow-Up – Send the person a “thank you” email right away. First of all, it’s good manners and it may prompt the person to give you additional help. Importantly, stay in touch afterwards. Keep the person informed (about 3 times a year) of your progress. That way they know the time they spent had some impact. It also keeps you top-of-mind.
Before we entered the wonderful world of recruiting and coaching, we both had careers in other industries. We know first hand the value of informational interviews. Someone currently doing the job you want can paint a realistic picture. This information will ultimately help you determine if the job’s right for you and if you are right for the job. It doesn’t cost anything and can save you a lot of time in the end. Use it to your best advantage and when you get the chance, “pay it forward”.