Informational interviews: why and how?

 A career specialist’s guide to securing a meeting—and making the most of it

by Magdalena Mot

Interview originally published at http://www.sfu.ca/continuing-studies/career-help/blog

Why are informational interviews so important during your career planning process?

Real resources are always human, so interviewing an industry professional is most likely the best way to learn about a specific role or an organizational culture. You gain information otherwise unavailable while growing your professional network. Informational interviews are perfect for those who want to enter a new industry, relocate, change careers, or even progress in their careers with another employer in the same field. I usually advise job seekers or career changers to use this tool after completing a full labour market research, just so they feel comfortable with the theoretical knowledge they’ve acquired on a certain position or role.

I am intimidated by cold-calling. Is it realistic to get an informational interview via an email or social media request?

The best way to get your first informational interview is via someone who knows the person you need to talk to. Social media channels, especially LinkedIn, work very well with these third-degree connections. Yet when you send a direct message to someone, mentioning the person who has referred you can make a huge difference. Yes, some may reject your invitation for various reasons, but don’t take it personally and never stop trying; move on to someone else. In a cold-call situation, my advice is to avoid leaving a voice message and instead try your call at a different time.

How can I successfully set up a meeting with a person who doesn’t seem interested in meeting with me?

Practise your introduction (remember that elevator pitch you’ve been working on?) and have ready an articulate reason for your meeting request. Don’t babble. Be flexible in terms of time and mention from the outset that you’re open to a short meeting over a coffee break, during the next two to four weeks. Just move on to someone else if the person does not respond or seems to be too busy. There are tens or hundreds of professionals you can approach, so don’t get stuck just because someone says no. Be prepared to thank them politely and move down your list.

What are the must-do’s of a successful informational interview?

Do your research, be professional and be concise. Find out as much as you can about that specific organization and write down 12 to 14 questions. Ponder them well and bring them to the interview. This will help you focus and keep the meeting short. Respect the time frame agreed upon (time is a very sensitive matter, so don’t risk making a poor impression and ruining your networking chance). Make some of your questions specific to the role and some to the organization. But don’t ask “lazy” questions, i.e., don’t request answers you can typically find online. Not only will you fail at making a good impression, but people may think you’re wasting their time.

What is inappropriate to ask during an informational interview?

As long as you don’t mention you’re looking for a job and don’t take out your résumé, everything else should pass. Those two faux pas are incurable mistakes. Emphasize that this is your research time. You are gathering information in order to be able to make a good decision later on. You’re analyzing your options. Ask about the workplace culture, benefits, turnover rate, the background of the two latest hires, and so on. But remember, you only have 12 to 14 questions.

What are the right ways to keep in touch after the interview?

Have a networking business card on you and ensure you exchange cards at the end of your meeting. Send a thank-you note (or card) and use the occasion to reiterate a point from your discussion or mention how something you’ve just learned may change your perspective for good. Connect on LinkedIn. Offer your help if you can, i.e., contribute ideas to an ongoing project, volunteer with a task, or help facilitate the completion of a project. Show that you also have something to give, as everything involving people is a two-way experience.

 

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