Informational interviews
How to find your next career opportunity

Informational interviews is a term first used by Richard Bolles of "What colour is your parachute" fame.

Basically it refers to a method of job search networking whereby you approach people you already know, or people to whom you have been referred, in order to get career advice or guidance.

They're called informational interviews because the reason you are approaching these people is for information - instead of seeking their active assistance in making a career change or in finding a new job.

Why do informational interviews work so well?

There is a high probability that job search networking is going to get you your next job, rather than concentrating your job search efforts on looking at employment classified ads and online jobs boards.

But.....if you are going to network you need to understand who to approach, and how to approach without being rejected. This link, about networking explains how to do this.

How to get these people to agree to meet with you is explained here.

Many people give up on networking because they get a lot of "NO's" from the people they approach for assistance.

I believe the reason for this is because people ask for the wrong type of assistance from people in their network.

Asking people to assist you to make a career change, or to find you a job is something your network contacts will be reluctant to do - in fact they'll find excuses not to help you.

Why? Because most people you approach aren't able to miraculously create a job for you just because you ask.

This is particularly the case when you are approaching contacts within your network to whom you have been referred. These people don't even know you yet!

Look at it this way... if a stranger rang you saying that a mutual acquaintance suggested they call you because you might be able to help them find you a job, what would your reaction be?

You'd at least be suspicious and defensive, and.....hardly likely to proceed with any further contact.

When your request is for advice, guidance or information you will find people are much more open to the idea of helping you.

In fact, most people when asked to give advice or guidance are usually flattered to be asked - and it's how you ask and what you ask that makes the difference.

Job networking Tips

Face to face informational interviews tend to work well as a job search or career change strategy for these reasons:

  • Your request for information is non-threatening to the people you ask - information and advice is something that is easy for people to give, people are usually glad to do it.
  • When people meet you face to face they have the opportunity to really see what kind of person you are - your personal presentation, attitude, communication style and level of professionalism.
  • When you meet referrals under these circumstances they will more often than not ask about you - your background, what you doing currently, what you'd like to do in future
  • This is where the real opportunity lies in informational interviews - it's your opportunity to self promote - so be prepared for this.

Informational interviews
Possible interview questions to ask

Informational interviews are not employment interviews. You have asked for the meeting seeking advice and guidance in relation to your career planning or your next career move.

Therefore you need to be prepared to conduct the meeting in professional manner. This means having some questions prepared.

In putting together your list of interview questions you will need to remember what your script was when you made contact. This will ensure that the questions you ask are relevant to the reasons you gave for requesting the meeting.

Job networking Tips

Stay true to your role!

It is very important to your credibility that you remain true to your script (or role) in the meeting.

Some of the reasons you may have given when requesting informational interviews might have been:

  • You're considering a change in career direction, but before committing to this course of action you want to learn more about the field.
  • You're exploring your career options and one of the areas you're interested in finding more about is...
  • You're looking at broadening your understanding of career pathways in your current profession and you're after some fresh perspectives from people who "have been there and done that".
  • You've been doing a review of where you are going in your career and you've been thinking about a change of direction into....But... you'd like some advice or guidance before making any firm decisions about which way you'll go.

Enquire about the bigger picture first

Depending on where you are in your job search, your interview questions might initially have a big picture focus - for example:

  • What is the current state of the industry, or this field?
  • How would you describe future career opportunities in this field?
  • Where is the industry or field heading?
  • What are the major opportunities and challenges in this industry or field?
  • Who would you describe as being the most important or influential organisations (or people) in this industry or field?
  • Who are the employers of choice in the industry or field?

Job networking Tips - create an excuse to meet

You can see from the types of questions above that informational interviews can provide you with some terrific information about how an industry or field you may not know very much about.

However - and this is important! Even if you already know something (or a lot) about a particular industry or field, you need an excuse to meet face to face with your referred contacts.

So....it's quite OK to go along to a meeting and ask questions about things that you might already know about.

The purpose of your meetings is three fold:

  1. Get useful information from the contact
  2. Make a positive impression with your referred contact
  3. Get the name and contact details of another contact that you can set up a meeting with

Another benefit from meeting with people and having these types of conversations with them is that you are very subtly letting them know that you are open to employment opportunities that might arise.

Drill down into the specifics

Once you understand the bigger issues you can then drill down into the specifics, such as:

  • How do people get started in this industry or field?
  • How did you get your start in this industry or field?
  • Why did you decide to work in this industry or field?
  • What do you like most, and least in your work in this industry or field?
  • What are the most important skills or attributes required to be successful in this industry or field?
  • What advice would you give to a person like me who is considering a move into this industry or field?
  • What can you tell me about typical working conditions, salary etc?

And.... a really important question

The person you are meeting with is in a great position to help you to keep your networking momentum going.

This is especially the case if you feel you information interview has gone well, and that you're getting the vibe that you've made a positive impression.

Can you guess the question?

Who else would you recommend that I speak to about this -someone whose judgement and opinion that you respect? And...Would you mind if I used your name when I contact them?

Informational interviews
How to make sure your meeting is a success

The following are basic guidelines that apply to any job search networking meeting or interview that you attend:

  • Ensure your personal presentation is spotless - your appearance is obviously one of the first things about which people will form impressions of you.
  • Get to the meeting on time.
  • At the commencement of the meeting thank the person for their time, and very briefly remind them why you wanted to meet - be true to script!
  • Agree on how much time is available for the interview - and stick to the timetable. This is your responsibility - don't abuse you network contact's goodwill by taking more time than anticipated.
  • Start with your list of prepared questions - remember to ask open ended questions - those that start with "what, when, where, why and how".
  • Take notes as you go - keeping an eye on the time
  • Remember to ask for another contact.
  • If you believe this contact would be especially helpful in future, and that you have been able to develop a good rapport with them, ask if you can remain in contact with them, from time to time, in future
  • End the interview on time

And here's one more very important interview tip - don't take your resume with you.

Why? Because if you're following the suggested script for referral networking talking a resume with you isn't being true to the reason you want to meet - which is to get information and advice.

Taking a resume with you suggests that you really want assistance in them finding you a job.

If they ask for a resume you can always easily supply one after your meeting. This merely provides another opportunity for you to remain in contact.

Informational interviews - follow up

There are some important follow up things to after your interview - they are related to information management, and ongoing image building with your contacts.

Information Management

For information management - update your contacts list database - click the link to see a copy of a suggested format for your database.

It will be important for your ongoing networking activity to keep a record of the contacts you have made, and the links between your various contact, as well as the outcomes from your interviews.

Image Building

There are a number of really simple things you can do after your interview which will reinforce the professional image you created during the interview. Most of them are common sense.....and common courtesy.

They are also important ways of helping your contacts remember you.

Networking Tips

The reason referral based informational interviews often result in a job offer is what often happens after your interview.

The people you interview will have their own network of contacts. You have no way of knowing who the person you are meeting with will meet or be in contact with in their own network.

People of course talk about their work all the time.....and sometimes the subject of having to find staff is the topic of conversation between professionals......followed by a question "Do you happen to know anyone who might be suitable".

Do you remember, we explained in job search advice how the recruitment process really works?

As a result of your job search networking meeting, it could be your name that is mentioned.

Other follow up action you can take after your informational interviews:

  • Send a thank you email (or letter).
  • Often your contact will suggest you contact someone else - get back to them after you have done so, letting them know that you took their advice
  • Find a way to pay it back - one of the key rules in networking is not to use, or abuse, the goodwill of the people that you meet. Find a way if you can to repay people for their kindness.
  • Things you can do to repay people:
    • send them a copy of articles or information you find that might be of interest to them
    • connecting them with people in your network who may be able to help the contact solve a problem

Informational interviews - summary

Preparing for and professionally conducting informational interviews or meetings is a highly effective way of making it known, in a very subtle way that you might be open to employment opportunities that might arise.

The ability to set up and conduct informational interviews professionally is therefore crucial to the image that you present to people who might be in a position to help you make a career or job change.

New! Comments

Has this helped you in your job search? What else would you like to see here about job search? Leave me a comment in the box below.
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