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Informational Interviews: How to Ace Them

Chris Perry

Last month, we discussed the power of informational interviews in your job search and how to effectively request them. Getting an informational interview is one thing, but the real challenge is acing it so you build a foundation for applying for jobs at that company.

Here are some tips to remember when conducting a successful informational interview:

  1. Be on time and respectful of their time. Just like a "real" interview, tardiness doesn’t look professional and will definitely have a negative impact on your first impression and connection with your interviewee.
  2. Be prepared with intelligent questions. You asked to interview them. While your interview may only be 30 minutes, if you don't come with insightful questions, you won't get a clear view of the company, culture and careers there. You also won't impress or stand out to the interviewee as someone truly invested in his/her company.
  3. Don't ask for a job! Just like in your request for the interview, don't ask for help getting a job during the interview. They already know you're interested in opportunities in their company or you wouldn't be interviewing them. Ask them questions about THEIR career, how THEY got involved in it, THEIR company and/or its culture. It is okay to mention that you have applied for a specific opportunity at the company if it is true.
  4. Do ask them how they broke into their careers and if they have any advice on how to break into a career in their company. Asking them for a job creates awkwardness and pressure that can destroy your connection; however, asking them for their story and their advice allows them to more comfortably help you solve your problem with tips and insights from their own experience.
  5. Do ask for referrals within the company. Asking for referrals does a few things. First, it shows that you are really interested in the company and want to invest more time in learning about careers there. Second, asking for an informational interview from the second person, third and so on will become much easier to get when you can mention that someone they know in the organization referred you. Third, you start to create a team of internal champions who now know you and can speak to your value and personal brand when an opportunity does come up.
  6. Offer some ideas, if appropriate, to show that you're creative and invested in their company and/or projects. They will likely not be able to share a great deal of information with you due to confidentiality policies; however, do a little research and offer some ideas based on what you can see from the outside. This does involve a calculated risk, but can pay off if your ideas add value to their own.
  7. Offer to help them, if appropriate. If you identify an opportunity where you can help, such as putting them in touch with someone you know, it could build an even stronger connection.
  8. Follow up with a thank you note. You should always show your appreciation for the interviewee's time and insight by sending them a thank you. You can send an email, but again, if you want to stand out, a hand-written thank you physically mailed will continue to enhance your personal brand.
  9. Follow up periodically to keep yourself top-of-mind for future opportunities that come up or that you apply for. I recommend that you ping these individuals every month or two with just a short email checking in. It should not be a request for a job, but should just let them know you're still out there. If you have applied for a job, let them know and ask them if there is anyone else you might speak with to learn more about the opportunity. This may also lead to them talking internally to help you move to the next level of consideration.

Only about 20% of all jobs are publicly posted online. Informational interviews will help you reach the people behind the postings and will increase your chance of finding and being considered for jobs, especially the "hidden" ones not publicly advertised.

Chris Perry, MBA is a Gen Y brand and marketing generator, a career search and personal branding expert and the founder of Career Rocketeer and Launchpad.