When you’re looking for a job, anything to give you a leg up on your fellow job seekers is a plus. One thing that could give you an edge are informational interviews. Never heard of them? Well, informational interviews are sort of practice runs with well-established executives.
“It’s essentially an opportunity to meet with a professional in your field of interest, chat about their career path, and the field in which they work, and ask for any career advice they have,” reported The Every Girl.
But just because the word interview is used doesn’t mean this is an opportunity to try to land a gig.
“Informational interviews are not job interviews,” explained Jon Minners, senior marketing manager and career expert with Vault.com, a career intelligence site. “They are an opportunity for a job seeker to pick the brain of an executive who may be able to offer insights into how they may fix their resume, gain experience or reach out to certain people to advance their careers.”
Informational interviews, which should last about 15 minutes or so, are most useful when thinking about venture into a new industry. Minners himself used informational interviews when he wanted to transition from reporter to the public affairs arena. These interviews can also help you figure out why you aren’t landing a position.
“Informational interviews are important because an executive at a company is more likely to talk to you when they don’t feel any obligation to hire you. It allows the executive to impart knowledge, possibly even mentor an individual, while it allows the job seeker an important opportunity to learn about their career track. Why are they not getting the job? What do they need to be considered for certain positions? And how other executives might view their talents based on the resume and interview skills,” Minners said.
If done right, you can gain valuable job hunting and career information from informational interviews. “They are important for career research. You learn details about a particular company, industry, job function. You ask about the career trajectory of a higher level person. They build your network to new contacts in your chosen field. They put you in front of potential employers who may be able to introduce you to others in their company and in other companies,” career coach Amy Geffen of Geffen Careers told us.
Here are some tips on how to get the most out of an informational interview:
–Make a meet list: “Decide who you want to meet. It can be anyone you admire—either in the field you’re in, or in a field you’re hoping to explore,” wrote The Every Girl.
–Make the connection. “Send a cold email. Keep it short. Keep it concise. Keep it friendly. Tell them you’d like to meet to learn more about their career background and their field or industry,” The Every Girl added.
—Do some research: Before you meet, make sure you do some research not only about the person you are meeting with but also about the industry.
–Set a date and location. If and when the person agrees to meet, set a date and let them pick the place and time that works best for them. Sometimes it’s a coffee shop. Sometimes it’s their office. Be open.
–Be professional. This isn’t two friends meeting for a coffee. This is a business meeting. “Treat it like a job interview,” Minners advised. “The person is taking time out of their day to meet with you, so you should treat the interview with as much respect as you would one where a job hands in the balance. Wear a suit. Act professional.”
—Be well equipped. Have your business cards and resumes on hand. “Bring multiple copies of your resume. While this is not a job interview, an informational interview can open the door for you should a position become available and the person you meet with likes your attitude and is impressed with your skills. They may ask for a copy or two of your resume and if you didn’t bring one, you do not look prepared,” Minners added.
—But don’t ask for a job! “Never say you are looking for a job. Say you are researching a field or a new career and you value this person’s advice,” said Geffen.
—Do get referrals. Ask for any contacts they can recommend or for people they think you should connect with.
— Always follow-up. Write a thank you note. “Get a business card and reach out to them after the interview to thank them once more for taking the time to meet with you. Then, reach out to them again during the holidays, just to wish them well, briefly update them on your situation and keep your name in their minds just in case something opened up since the last time you spoke,” said Minners.
—Stay in touch. Drop the person an email once in a while; let them know what you are up to.