Informational interviews

Approaching people for, and then actually having informational interviews with those people is all part of the strategy of referral based networking that I have been writing about in this recent series of posts.

Referral based networking and information interviewing are all part of a job search strategy which provides a way for you to access the hidden job market.

If you have been following my series of articles you will know that approximately 60-80% of the work that is available to you is in this hidden market – that is these are jobs that you will not see advertised. That’s why it is so important for job seekers to have a networking strategy.

Links to my earlier articles on job search networking are here:

In today’s post we will be covering some important tips for participating in the meeting you have set up.

How long should the meetings be?

When making contact to set up your meetings keep in mind that in addition to asking your contact for information and guidance, you are asking them to give up their time to assist you.

People are busy, so be respectful of the time you are asking them to give up to you. Therefore, I suggest you ask for say a 15-20 minute face to face meeting.

A meeting of this length usually won’t be too much of an imposition for most people. Therefore, when asking for a meeting of this length, people are more likely to agree to meet with you.

You need to be the ‘time keeper’ for the meeting

It will be up to you to keep an eye on the actual time you spend with your contacts. When the time you have asked for is up, conclude the meeting. Do this by saying something like “I’m conscious of your time, so we had better wrap this up. I’m very grateful for the time and the information you have given me today.”

If your contact offers to keep the meeting going, thank them, ask your remaining questions (if you have any) and then aim to conclude the meeting promptly.

To reinforce the point – Don’t abuse the goodwill of your contact by taking too much of their valuable time.

picture of person's hand writing on notebpadPrepare for your meeting

You have asked for the meeting, therefore you need to be prepared to guide the discussion which takes place.

If you followed my suggested script for how to ask for a networking meeting, which is to ask your contact for advice or guidance, then the things you discuss in your meeting must be consistent that script.

Here’s how a typical meeting might go:

  • Handshake and ‘delighted to meet you’ (or ‘nice to see you again’) – thank you for agreeing to see me
  • Re-state your reason for wanting to meet – you’re after information or guidance (not help to get a job)
  • Indicate you have some questions – refer to your notes
  • Ask your questions
  • Be prepared to do some self promotion
  • Wrap up on time – thank them, and respectfully ask if they can give you another contact to obtain yet more information

Suggested approach – things to keep in mind

You might recall that in the very first post in this series I indicated that the secret to success in job search networking is to find a ‘believable reason’ to have a conversation with people about employment.

So, your informational interview potentially has multiple purposes which might include some, or even all of the following :

  • By using a targeted networking approach you want to very subtly indicate to the people you meet that, in fact, you are exploring job opportunities – even though you make it clear you aren’t wanting them to actively assist with this.
  • So…..even if you already know the information you are going to ask your contact to provide, attend the meeting and ask your questions anyway. Your questions are the ‘believable reasons’ for the meeting.
  • When you do know most of what you want to ask the contact, you will often get useful new information.
  • Where you are genuinely after new information and guidance you will almost certainly get a lot of the information and guidance that you need.

picture of a microphoneBe prepared to self-promote

One advantage of informational interviews is that the discussion is often just a chat, quite informal.

When you meet people that you have been referred to by your contacts, they won’t know much, if anything about you.

As a natural courtesy or curiosity that people have in these situations, you can expect to be asked by your contacts to tell them a little about yourself. For example they might want to know about your past career, why you are looking, what education you have received, what you are looking to achieve in your life…….and so on.

Be prepared for this. In particular, if you are asked about what type of job you are looking for have some answers prepared.

If you are not able to specify a particular job or occupation, explain that you’re looking to do something that you love doing, that you know well.

For example, if you love working with, or helping people, or you love working with figures and details…..or whatever, explain this. Be prepared to promote your values, key skills and what you are looking to achieve in your work and your life.

Often it will be your passion around these things that people notice, and pre-dispose them to help you in some way.

Preparing questions to ask in informational interviews

Your questions will of course be related to the things you would really like to ask your contact.

Here are some suggestions to get you started with preparing suitable questions for you informational interviews:

Industry overview

  • How would you describe (…….) industry, how is it structured, how does it operate
  • where is it going
  • What are the future prospects for the industry – is it growing or in decline, what are the biggest trends or issues right now
  • Who are the major players/employers – internationally, regionally, in this country/city
  • Where are the best places to get more information about the industry
  • How do most of the larger employers recruit
  • How do smaller employers recruit

About a career or occupation

  • How did you get started in this line of work
  • Typically, how do people get a start in this type of job
  • What special skills, training, or qualifications are needed
  • What are the best and worst aspects of this job or career
  • How easy it future advancement
  • What advice can you give me for getting started on this type of career

Asking for more contacts

  • You have been extremely helpful. May I ask you for one more thing? Who else would you recommend that I speak with about this, someone you know well and who you think highly of. I want to do this because I’m keen get some different views about….. And, may I use your name when I contact them?

Basic, but important!picture of young man and woman in professional business atire

When attending your informational interviews here are a few other key tips:

  • Pay close attention to your personal grooming, and overall presentation – first impressions are vitally important
  • During introductions, a firm handshake, good eye contact and remember to smile
  • Be on time for your appointment
  • Make time to prepare questions for the meeting
  • Take a notebook with you, and make notes during your conversation
  • Do not take your resume with you – if your contact asks for it, you can always get back to them
  • If you are referred to another contact, get back to the referrer – thank them, and let them know how your meeting went

Maintain control of your job search

A common outcome in informational interviews is where your contact offers to pass on your details to someone who might be interested in receiving them.

This can be a delicate situation. However, my strong recommendation is that you do your own self promotion.

Why?  Because when you rely on your contact’s goodwill to promote your talents to others you have lost control of your job search.

While these offers of help are usually quite genuine, your contact may not always follow through. This leaves you wondering.

You will also be reliant on your initial contact for keeping in touch with you to let you know about any response from this third party. Far better you do this yourself, especially if there is potential interest in you for a job.

In these situations I suggest that you thank your contact, but respectfully ask if they wouldn’t mind if you took responsibility for following through.

Then, ask for the details of the third party, and indicate you would like to use your contact’s name when making your approach.

Informational interviews – Summary

These types of meetings are your means of identifying job opportunities which exist in the hidden job market.

They are your ‘excuse’ for getting in front of people, ideally in a face to face situation, to have a conversation about jobs and careers.

You can learn a lot from the people you meet about the way things work, and often there will be real opportunity to land a job as a result from your meetings.

While the discussions are usually quite informal, prepare for your meetings as if they were a real job interview. Ensure your personal presentation, and preparation for the meeting are both first class.

You just never know what might result from your meeting, and what help you might get from the people you meet – unless you take action in the first place to ask for an information interview.


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