Informational interviews: A networking strategy

Informational InterviewInformational interviews are my favorite job-search strategy to help advance one’s career. This type of interview provides a rare opportunity to gain invaluable, up-to-date knowledge about a specific business or industry from an “insider,” as well as build a new network connection. Informational Interviewing is a job-search strategy that puts you in the interviewer’s seat. You are reaching out to high-value contacts and asking for their time to ask questions about their company, job or industry.
I encourage you to find opportunities in your current job-search situation to reach out to new contacts and have these conversations. It is also a great way to gain experience talking to industry professionals to improve your interview skills.
Who to connect with about your career interests
Focus on targeting the following high-value connections for informational interviews:
  • Job titles one, two and three levels above your target job title. These individuals can introduce you to the decision maker or might be in a position to make hiring decisions themselves.
  • Your job title and similar. These people can give you the inside scoop on challenges within this position so you can best understand how to market yourself.
  • One level beneath your job title. This is a good way to learn about how the organization promotes and provides growth opportunities for employees.
  • Titles that interact with your job title. Focusing on these individuals can help you understand the goals of the departments that interact with your target job title and how to promote your communication skills in a relevant way.
  • Staffing consultants/head hunters.
  • Corporate recruiters.
How to make the connection
Once you have targeted people you feel comfortable approaching, you’ll need to contact them to see if they are interested in having a brief meeting or phone call. If someone refuses or ignores you at this stage, move on and try someone else. If a person is receptive, set up a meeting.
These meetings are not about asking for job leads; the point is to learn something and make a connection. Think about informational interviews as a way to build a relationship, expand your network and learn inside information about a company, job title or industry.
Wait for the right time. The other person is doing you a favor, so it should be about what’s convenient for the connection, not you. Follow their lead as to timing, in person or by phone, location and how long the meeting should last. People who are successful at something (the reason you’re approaching them) are often pressed for time, so be respectful. Ask how much time the person has. It’s safe to assume that a 20-minute phone call or a 30-minute meeting is a reasonable request.
Finally, it is your responsibility to set the agenda for this meeting and thus make the most of it. If a person accepts your informational interview invitation, make sure you come prepared.
Before the meeting, do your homework. Try to find out about the person you’re meeting. What’s going on in his company or industry? Do a Google search and set up a Google news alert so you don’t miss big developments.
Also, know what you want. Prepare questions that forward the conversation as well as generate the information you are seeking. Here are some examples:
  • What do you like most about what you do, and what would you change if you could?
  • What have been your greatest moments and biggest challenges?
  • How do people break into this field? How did you get started in the field?
  • What is your typical day like?
  • What emerging trends do you see affecting your job or industry in the next five years?
  • Are there any professional or trade associations I should connect with?
  • What do you read — in print and online — to keep up with developments in your field?
  • What skills and abilities will I need to be successful in this line of work?
  • Do you have three people you would feel comfortable introducing me to so I can continue to expand my network and conduct more informational interviews?
Show the person that you’ve done your homework by preparing questions that specifically relate to her career path. Here’s an example: “I read in a trade magazine article that you started this business when you were just 24. How did you do it? What lessons did you learn?”
When and how to follow up
After the meeting, make sure to follow up with a thank-you email and a thank-you card within 24 hours. If you said you’d send an article, contact someone or do something, make sure to do what you said you would and communicate your follow up. If you want to continue the relationship, figure out how to stay in touch. Ask if they are willing to connect on social media. If there was no connection, move on.
Initiating conversations with high-value contacts is an essential job-search strategy in today’s competitive landscape. More companies rely on word of mouth referrals and internal recommendations to make hiring decisions. Use informational interview requests to find five internal connections at each of your target companies to start strategically networking your way into your future career.

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