Have you cursed those time-consuming ether-bound applications that you never hear back on?
Have you found a place you’d love to work but don’t have any connections inside to pull for you?
Have you considered informational interviewing?
Not long ago I was laid off after living only a couple of years in the area. I didn’t know where to look or even where to start. A wise employment counselor found me a list of employers in the county that employed people in my occupation, and I started contacting them– not to ask for a job, but to learn about their company and ask advice. I made it crystal clear that I was not asking for a job. A little over half agreed to talk to me. Believe it or not, that’s a pretty good number.
I met with probably a couple dozen hiring managers from different companies and agencies, and I quickly identified the office I wanted to work in the most. I researched them, found a mutual connection that could introduce me to a manager, and made contact.
After making it clear I wasn’t asking for a job (didn’t mean I wasn’t looking!) I asked him questions, while all the time giving him little bits of information about myself. At the end of the interview, I shook his hand, gave him my resume (“for future reference”), and asked him for names of anyone else I may want to talk to. Then I left.
Six weeks later I was contacted by a woman I didn’t know who worked in the same office. She had an opening in her office, and when she made it known to her co-worker (who happened to be the one I interviewed), he gave her my resume. She called me in for a job interview, and six days later I had the job.
So what’s the difference between a job interview and an informational interview? Essentially, it’s who called the interview. We all know what a job interview is; but we, the jobseekers, initiate an informational interview. Then we can ask them much the same kind of questions an employer might ask us in a job interview– where do they see themselves in 5 years, what are their greatest strengths or challenges, etc.
Informational interviews could secure a job but that’s not necessarily what we’re doing this for. Most of the time we’re learning about a new company or job field, expanding our network, getting advice about breaking into a new field, and leaving a good impression of ourselves for future reference (should your targeted employer, like mine did, have a job come open later). So if you decide to try it, here are some pointers:
- Do your research. You probably have done some already; that’s what brought you to a particular company to interview. But no matter who’s interviewing whom, employers are always impressed by those who know at least some minimal information about the company, what they do, how large they are, etc. Use that information to build a lively conversation about shared missions, visions, etc., and to learn more about the employer in detail.
- Be precise in your request. Many employers aren’t that familiar with informational interviews either. Let them know this is not to ask for a job, but just to get information, increase your network and ask advice. Set a time limit, usually not more than 20 minutes (employers are very busy people!), or capture their attention and say you’d like nineteen minutes!
- Stay true to your word. If you said your appointment would last no more than 19 minutes, don’t let yourself go over that time. Your credibility is at stake. Start wrapping it up a couple of minutes before. Believe me, it makes a world of difference in their eyes. Now, not only are you proactive (in setting up the interview), precise and detail-oriented, you’re a person of your word too!
- Practice The 50-50 Rule. Richard Bolles in his book What Color Is Your Parachute? (ed. 2014, p.61) points out that, in general, people who get hired are those who balance speaking and listening 50/50 in an interview. This holds for informational interviews as well. Think of it as a blind date: while they’re getting to know you, you’re getting to know them too.
- Ask to connect on LinkedIn or their social media channel of choice. Then get active on that channel, so the employer can get more familiar with you– and stay updated on how, and what, you’re doing.
- Leave them a copy of your resume when you’re done. Don’t give it to them at the beginning; it makes them suspicious that you’re here for reasons other than what you specific
- and most important: SAY THANK YOU! SAY IT IN WRITING!! We’ve all heard how essential these are, and we’ve also heard how it’s rarely ever done. Thank-You notes are probably even more important in an informational interview. You want to leave an employer with a favorable impression of you.