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The Key Components to Successful Informational Interviews

Setting up informational interviews is truly one of the best ways to let people know you’re looking for new opportunities while also gathering great insights, information and creating connections in organizations or industries you find interesting.

By Mary Beth Barrett-Newman

Mary Beth Barrett-Newman is President of 2nd Career Consulting, She spent almost 30 years in the corporate world and brings her experience, expertise and enthusiasm as she coaches clients on their journey to a new position. Mary Beth is a frequent contributor to the iRelaunch blog and podcast and is a moderator of the iRelaunch Return to Work Forum on Facebook.

It’s interesting how many people don’t incorporate the use of informational interviews into their relaunch and job search process. Setting up informational interviews is truly one of the best ways to let people know you’re looking for new opportunities while also gathering great insights, information and creating connections in organizations or industries you find interesting.

What are Informational Interviews and why should they be part of your job search?

An informational interview is a meeting you set-up with an individual in a job, company or industry that you are interested in learning more about. And although they are NOT the same as a job interview, the preparation and professionalism in your approach should be the same. On occasion, an informational interview can be a first step toward an actual job interview, so approach it accordingly.

For some relaunchers, asking for an informational interview can be as terrifying as an actual job interview. If that’s the case, start by reaching out to people with whom you’re comfortable to get some practice. Once you gain more confidence, you can start reaching out to others.

Here are a number of steps to follow to ensure a quality interaction during your informational interview.

  • Have a goal, and make sure the individual you’re meeting with knows what it is that you’d like to discuss with them. If you’re not certain what you’d like to learn, it’s difficult for others to help you.
  • Do your research. Research what you can online, so you’re not wasting time asking questions about information you can find yourself. Check out the individual on LinkedIn, learn about their background, gather general information on the company they work for as well as the industry.
  • Be curious. It’s always interesting when a client tells me they don’t know what to ask. There’s so much that you can learn from people. Write down five (or more) things you’d like to learn. Then develop questions around those data points. Examples of questions you might consider are listed at the end of this article.
  • Be prepared. Know what you want to ask. Write down your questions and practice them out loud. What follow-up questions do you have? Maybe role play with someone if you’re not comfortable. The more prepared you are, the more confident you will feel.
  • Say thank you. People are taking time out of their day and doing you a favor, so make sure that they know you truly appreciate the time and information. Part of this appreciation not only includes sending a thank you email and/or handwritten note, but also making sure that you follow up on ideas or people/leads they shared with you. Don’t make the thank you email your last communication. If you keep people in the loop on your relaunch process, they appreciate it and you will remain top of mind for them.

Again, “be curious.” What is it you’d really like to find out, and what questions should you ask to get that data? Please don’t ask them to describe a typical day. Most people will tell you there are no typical days. You can ask better questions than that!

Here are some questions to get you started. Review these and make them your own.

  • Sure, feel free to ask about what they do, what they like about their job/industry/company and how they got their start in the industry. Ask about what background and characteristics they look for in the people they hire.

But then go deeper by asking questions like:

  • What industry thought leaders do they follow? Why?
  • Are there industry groups they suggest joining?
  • What changes do they see happening in the company/industry/role in the future due to legislative/environmental/demographic issues?
  • Are there certifications and/or classes that employers value that would be beneficial for you should you desire to enter the industry?
  • What other companies do they suggest you follow?
  • And, who else do they suggest you should talk to? Ask for names and contact information, and to the extent it seems appropriate ask if they would be willing to send an email connecting the two of you … You can then take it from there.

Finally, be sure to document and track your meetings. Take notes during the meeting, but also document not only what they told you, but ideas, suggestions, and people they suggested you also contact. Detailing all this in a spreadsheet, including follow-up dates, will prevent things from slipping through the cracks.

Informational interviews allow you the opportunity to meet new people and learn about jobs, companies and organizations you may not have been aware of. They are just a part of the big giant research project, called your relaunch. Have fun!

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