The Dreaded Informational Interview: What It Is, What It Is Not, How to Do It
People hire people, not resumes. So you need to be a person before you’re a resume–to engage with individuals who can support your candidacy. You need to do informational interviews. Even if you’re a senior executive with 20+ years’ experience in your field and industry, you need to set up, strategize for, and do informational interviews. Your job search might fail without this critical job search strategy.
Informational Interviews: Not Your Grandfather’s Job Search
If you’re frustrated with your job search, I’d be willing to bet that your strategy included at least one of the following:
- Reading job boards, tailoring your resume to each position, and sending it out.
- Skimming companies’ career web sites, and uploading your resume.
- Generating a list of companies, and sending it out to “Dear Sir or Madam.”
There is a better way, and you can do it: The informational interview.
This Is Not an Informational Interview
“Hi, thanks for speaking with me today/having me here today. I’d like to tell you about my experience, assets, and abilities, because I’m looking for a job. Do you have a job for me? If not, do you know who is hiring? And furthermore, if you look at my resume [hands over resume], where do you think I fit in your company?”
Only possible outcome: “Sorry, I am not hiring now.”
Subtext: I’m looking for a job.
This Is an Informational Interview
“Hi, thanks for speaking with me today/having me here today. I have heard so much about your company/product/service, and I’m truly curious about the processes and people that go into producing it. How did you get into the role you currently have?”
Tone: Curious and interested.
Content: Outwardly focused.
Only possible outcome: “Sure, let me tell you how I was hired here” / “I originally went to school for X, but I wound up doing Y” / “I’ve been in this company 15 years…”
Subtext: I’m looking for a job.
That’s a good start to an informational interview. It focuses on what the audience can offer about his or her experience and asks open-ended questions, none of which are “Will you hire me?” Of course, the subtext in any informational interview is that the candidate is in a job search, but that’s not really the focus of the discussion; it hovers in the background, but it’s not at the center of the discussion. The center of the discussion, then, is the person with whom you’re speaking. Give them the platform, be authentically curious, and learn from them.
How to Engage in an Effective Informational Interview
Overall, Informational interviews are not actually interviews. They are not about you, the candidate. Informational interviews are opportunities for you to ask questions and learn. Informational interviews are not only for new college grads; they can be useful for senior executives as well. They might be formal in-office conversations, or they might be brief phone calls. Either way, any way, they are targeted discussions about the individual with whom you’re speaking and the company.
Get ready for your informational interviews:
Prepare: Learn as much as you can about a handful of individuals with whom you wish to speak.
Secure meetings: Ask for 10 minutes on their calendars; follow up in a week if you do not receive a response. Move on from those clearly unwilling or unable to fit you into their busy schedules.
Ask open-ended questions: How do these people interest you? What do they know that you don’t? What drives them to go to work every day?
Capitalize on the connection: Who do they know that you might benefit from knowing (and vice versa)? Are they willing to make an introduction?
Follow up: Thank the individual at the end of the call or meeting. Send a follow-up thank you, expressing gratitude and referring to the action steps the person agreed to take on your behalf, if any.
Reach out to recommended connections: Start the process over; fairly soon, you’ll have added dozens of people to your personal informational interview pipeline.
Service Orientation for Your Informational Interviews
Remember, informational interviews are two-way streets. Be service-focused, and give as much as you take (or ask for). Be a helpful resource in any way you can for the individual with whom you’re speaking.
Feeling Overwhelmed in Your Job Search?
Still daunted by the prospect of developing and executing a strategy for executive job search? Not sure why informational interviews will help your specific executive job search? No idea what you can offer in return for someone’s assistance in your job search? Reach out to me; I will help you construct your executive job search plan and coach you/teach you to execute it.