The Art of Informational Interviewing

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Build a network of allies and set yourself apart from your competition

If you are not familiar with informational interviewing, you are not alone. You, however, are missing a key component of becoming a candidate of interest for job applications. An informational interview is an informal conversation with somebody working in an area that interests you, with the purpose of learning more about their job, company and employee experience.

But how do you know whom to reach out to for an informational interview, and where do you find them? How do you get the most out of your informational interview? Do these things right and you will grow a network of allies exponentially and showcase yourself as a proactive, well-informed candidate.

While most job seekers are quick to connect with recruiters, talent sourcers and other HR professionals, the best people to ask for informational interviews are those working in jobs you want at companies that interest you. They can share intricate details of their work to help you evaluate your fit for that job and company. They also have information, not readily available to job seekers, you can use to differentiate yourself from other candidates. Information like:

  • What makes people successful
  • What causes people to fail
  • Strengths and weaknesses of their team
  • High-priority projects
  • Problems they are solving
  • Likes and dislikes of their job or company
  • Organizational culture
  • What they really need in a new employee, beyond what is written in a job posting

You can search for, identify and reach out to people through LinkedIn, but you also should seek people participating in local chapters of professional associations and organizations for your field of interest, like the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) or Project Management Institute (PMI), for example. Veterati (www.veterati.com) also is an excellent platform for veterans to request informational interviews.

Once you connect with somebody who agrees to an informational interview, it is important to prepare. Be respectful of their time and get the most out of your conversation. Before your scheduled informational interview, do some research into the industry, company and person you will meet. Use the information gained to form insightful questions. Avoid asking questions that could be answered with a simple internet search.

Demonstrating you have prepared for your conversation gives you credibility with the other party and could encourage them to advocate for you. Perceptive, well-informed questions asked in your informational interview will yield a wealth of not easily obtained knowledge, which could be your competitive advantage.

In addition to asking good questions, properly closing your conversation is key to unlocking a hidden network of allies that could position you as a candidate of interest. The last question you should ask, near the end of your conversation or in a follow-up correspondence, is, “Is there anybody else in your organization I should speak with to learn more?”

If you have prepared properly for your informational interview and have made a good impression, this person may be inclined to make an introduction for you. This introduction can be to someone in their network, somebody you may not have found in your LinkedIn search -- a potentially untapped network.

The purpose of informational interviewing is not only to gain insight, but also to gain allies. Do not ask for a favor during your informational interview. Approach your conversation from a genuine position of curiosity, treat it as a research project and be sure to end your conversation on time. This, too, gives you credibility with the other party. You should thank the person for their time and follow up with a thank-you note.

Informational interviews provide useful information and language to include in your résumé and to weave into your interview performance -- information less proactive job seekers won’t have. Ideally, once you apply for a job, you will be positioned to reach out to those you have spoken with, giving them the opportunity to advocate for you within the organization. Not everybody will respond to requests for informational interviews; that’s OK. Keep at it. No matter what you do, always remain proactive, professional, patient and persistent.

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