An informational interview is when you meet with an influencer for general advice and details about a potential future workplace. While it can be intimidating and you may be rejected some of the time, don’t be afraid to ask for these meetings.
Conquer that fear, because the more interviews you ask for, the more you will get. More and more people you meet these days have been through their own career transition process. That means they understand the benefits of informational interviews, and are willing to spend some time, whether it be in an office environment, over a cup of coffee, or even a meal, talking about their company and how the hiring process is, and what is happening there.
Try and secure an informational interview with a key decision maker in your appointed (targeted) company, or with a past employee at one of your appointed companies – one who no longer has an allegiance to that firm, and can tell all the tales.
How to conduct an effective informational interview
Throughout the process, show your appreciation for them giving you their time for free. Pay for their meal or coffee, because you were the instigator of the meeting. Tell them upfront that you’re looking to be employed by that company, and want to know what you can do to be hired.
Keep the meeting to 30 minutes or less out of respect for their time. You can gather a lot of information in 30 minutes, and after several interviews with people from the same firm, you’ll be able to build a valuable business case for your employment in that firm.
Research the company beforehand, and prepare a list of thought provoking, engaging questions. The more engaged they are in the conversation, the more excited they will be to put your name forward for an interview. With only 9% of jobs advertised in Canada, and 12% of jobs with recruiters, the remaining 79% of jobs are found through in-person and online networking.
Be sure to take notes so you can keep track of the new information and insights you’re gaining. Use whatever method you’re most comfortable with. There’s no need to be self-conscious – they know you’ll be taking notes. If you use a laptop or iPad, this will have the added benefit of showing that you’re tech savvy as well.
At the end of the meeting, always thank them for their time and leave them with a firm handshake and a business card. Then – and this is KEY – send a handwritten thank you note. That definitely helps you stand out from other people they’ve met.
Informational interviews often generate a formal interview with a key decision maker. At the very least, you’ve made a connection that could have long-lasting mutual benefits.
You never know when the situation might be reversed, and the person you’re talking to may be downsized themselves. At that point you might be settled in another firm and in a position to help. Once they’re downsized, people always wish they’d networked with those who asked when they were gainfully employed.