Expand Your Career Horizons with Informational Interviews

By Mary Cavanaugh
August 06, 2019
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A question that we often are asked as career coaches is “What is an informational interview and why should we explore them?”

The term was coined by Richard Nelson Bolles, author of the best-selling career handbook What Color is Your Parachute?. An Informational Interview – or conversation if you will – is a meeting in which a potential job seeker seeks advice on their career, the industry, and the corporate culture of a potential future workplace while an employed professional learns about the job seeker and evaluates their professional potential and fit to the corporate culture, so building a candidate pool for future openings.

Benefits of Informational Interviews

Job seekers, as well as those happily ensconced in their roles, can explore informational interviews to grow their networks. Networking is the most effective way to find a new role or opportunity and adding informational interviews to networking practices can improve the outcome.

In a strong job market incorporating informational interviews serves a dual role – it allows the job seeker access to individuals in organizations or in positions of interest and it in turn, it allows hiring managers or professionals to talk to potential talent.

Leveraging informational interviews also allows both job seekers and those already employed a chance to learn new information in order to stay current in their industries.

Sometimes job seekers are looking to explore new territory and informational interviews are the perfect vehicle to learn and see if the idea of doing something new is feasible and possible. These meetings could be the start of an exciting new chapter in a career.

Start Here

Before setting up an informational interview, it is important to reflect and ask some important questions:

  • What motivates, inspires and energizes you? What do you want to be known for? What do you want to accomplish?
  • Where are you in your career? Are you happy? Do you think you are at the right level?
  • What are your transferable skills? If you pivot, would some of the softer skills come into play in this new area?
  • Where do you want to be 5 years? What do you need to know? What advice are you seeking?

Think about how your contacts might be able to help you. Networking and the use of informational interviews is a way to gather information, advice, and/or other contacts – it is not the time or place to ask if your contact is aware of open positions.

What questions do you need to ask your network to get useful information to help you move forward?

Create a Plan

You are not “asking for a job” you are seeking advice. It is flattering and people will respond positively. Remember to be specific in your request – people need something to “grab onto” they want to help. Create an “elevator pitch” to succinctly state your case for the informational networking meeting. Identify what you hope to learn or accomplish.

Do your due diligence before the meeting. Consider what roles interest you – explore industry websites, company websites, and especially LinkedIn to be sure you have a basic knowledge of industry nomenclature and jargon. Your contact is sharing valuable time so take the time to learn about them and their career so you are prepared to make the most of the conversation.

Research Resources

Prepare a for your eyes only discussion guide in advance to keep the conversation on track. Questions to consider include:

  • Would you share highlights of your career? How did you land at your present company? What advice would you share?
  • What are your industry trends? Do you know what other companies in your industry are doing? Given my background what experiences and skills might I leverage in your industry?
  • Who else do you recommend I meet? Are there industry organizations where I can network and seek advice? Can you make an introduction for me?

Breakdown of a Conversation

  • 1 min – Introductions
  • 5 min – Develop rapport
  • 5 min – Ask them to share their story
  • 5 min – Share your value and experience
  • 5 min – Ask for introductions / referrals / advice
  • 4 min – Ask how you can help them

Typically, 30 minutes is scheduled for an informational interview. This 25 minute conversation outline allows you an extra five minutes of wiggle room. If your contact extends the conversation that is a positive sign of rapport building, but always be mindful of their time and be sure to comment that you are aware of their busy schedule.

Cultivate Relationships with Follow-up

Ideally your networking meetings are not one and done.  Look for ways to stay in touch.

Every opportunity you have for contact within your network is worth pursuing, and a “thank-you” is an especially important one. Send along any supporting information agreed to in the meeting. Email and/or handwritten thank-you notes are acceptable.

Also, when applicable, send a “thank-you” to the person who referred you. It not only shows your appreciation for the referral, but also keeps you top of mind and may trigger thoughts of additional contacts to whom they could refer you.

Send occasional follow-ups: You are trying to build a relationship, so stay in touch not only as it relates to your job search but also to simply say “hello, how are you?”, “Happy holidays!” or follow up with information, such as an article that is relevant to the person.

When you land a new position, send your new contact information and perhaps another acknowledgement of their support.

Potential Outcomes

Informational interviews provide valuable advice on skills you may need to grow or shift for future opportunities. You will learn about your contact’s area of expertise, may be inspired by their career path, and benefit from their lessons learned. Hopefully, you will gather new contacts, make new connections, and expand your network. Ultimately, there is the potential to learn about future career opportunities and network your way to a new job.

Research Resources

How do you uncover potential Information Interview targets? Use your network – your current and close network is EVERYONE – both professional and personal. People are more likely to meet with you if your connection comes through a mutual contact.

LinkedIn is a treasure trove for your research as well as you being found so make sure your profile is strong and up to date.

Attending industry events and networking events are other ways to meet potential informational interviewing prospects.

Have you spoken with recruiters in your field of expertise? Recruiters have a great knowledge of industry landscape? If they are willing, seek them out for an informational interview.

Vendors where you have established relationships – you are their client – your relationship could be of value to them – plus they may have intel on your industry, competitors.

Alumni Associations and other community groups.

 

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