Informational interviews, in which you gather information about a contact's job and industry, are vitally important to learning about new careers and opportunities. Plus, it's precisely when jobs aren't available that people are willing to meet with motivated job seekers as a way to develop a strong talent pool for the future. An informational interview can put you at the head of the line when a position appears, lead to valuable employment contacts, or simply help you figure out your next career move.
You have two routes to getting an informational interview -- using an introduction from someone in your network or cold-calling. The latter can work but the former is a surer bet -- and easier if you're shy. "You can begin by checking your Linkedin network to see who may know people who are in positions that you would like to be in," says Roberta Matuson, president of Human Resource Solutions. "Once you've identified these people, pick up the phone and ask your connection if they would consider making an introduction. Be prepared for a yes. By that, I mean have an introductory e-mail ready to go that your connection can use to introduce you." In other words, let the mantra "Help me, help you" guide you. Once you have an informational interview, here's how to make the most of it:
Don't Lead By Asking For A Job
This is precisely what separates an informational interview from a regular one -- an informational interview is not about a job, it's about meeting someone, getting to know what they need, and letting them know what you want. "Avoid the temptation to pry about internal contacts or job openings. If the person sees you're a possible fit, they will tell you," says Ellen Huxtable, owner of Advantage Business Concepts.
But Do Lead The Conversation Unlike in a traditional interview, you should be asking questions, so make sure to figure out what you're there to find out before you get there. "A common misconception about informational interviews is that the interviewer is there just to take information from the person they are interviewing. Instead, it should be a two-way dialogue," says Caroline Ceniza-Levine, career coach and co-founder of SixFigureStart. Part of that is knowing how to present yourself in the first 60 seconds...
Pitch Yourself Precisely "Be prepared to tell your story succinctly and with clear goals. Make certain when you leave that the individual knows what you are looking for and the three key strengths you bring to the table. Make it easy for them to think of you and share your story with others," says Christine Bolzan, founder of the Graduate Career Coaching Office. Again, think "help me, help you."
Offer To Provide A Service Pitching yourself is a priority, but another way into an organization where there isn't a job opening is to find out what your interviewer needs. "Offering them a free presentation or tutorial on something they are interested in gets you in their door. Speaking engagements, demos, trial periods on a service, etc. are ways to introduce your abilities," says Laura Rose, founder of Rose Coaching.
Don't Wear Out Your Welcome This is critical, since you initiated the meeting. Think of yourself as a guest. "If you've asked for thirty minutes, then that's all you should take. If it looks like the meeting will go over, give the other person the opportunity to extend or terminate the conversation," say Matuson.
Ask For Another Contact
"At the end of the interview, ask for recommendations for other people you should speak to from a career development perspective and for people to talk to who may have openings," Tracy Birsson, founder and CEO of The Opportunities Project. Do this a few times and watch your network -- and opportunities -- grow exponentially.
Keep The Conversation Going "Express your desire to check in periodically. And then make sure you do," says Alexia Vernon, career coach and author. Simply asking to stay in touch ensures your visit can pay off eventually, even if it doesn't right away.