Why Do I Need to Do an Informational Interview?

Well, the simple answer to that question is to get information.  But let’s dig a little deeper…

One of the best sources for gathering information about what is happening in an industry is to talk to people currently working in that field.  An informational interview is an interview that you initiate.  You ask the questions with the purpose being to obtain information – not to get a job.  If you want to find out how to get to where you want to go, talk to someone who’s already there.

An informational interview is one sure way to find out if your skills and qualifications match your targeted job.  You can find out about the requirements and daily tasks of the position you are interested in, plus many tips for success and insight into the future of your desired field.  It can also eliminate “surprises” in the actual job interview.  Moreover, informational interviews can help you develop employment leads and gain experience with interviewing.  It is not unusual for an informational interview to lead to a job offer.

Now, how you go about getting an informational interview and what questions you ask are completely up to you.  There is no set way to do it but here are some tips to make your informational interviews effective:

1) Identify what you want to achieve

You must first decide what you want and where you want to go.  It is impossible for someone else to figure that out for you.  It is something you have to do on your own.  Do you want to figure out if your current career is where you really should be?  Do you want someone to look at your resume and tell you what you’re “lacking?”  Do you want to know how to get a promotion?  Do you want to know how to break into a new industry?

2) Pick 10 people in your desired industry who can help you

Once you’ve identified your goal, pick 10 people in your desired industry who can help you achieve it.  This may be someone in the exact position you want to be in or someone in management.  This will take some research.  You will have to look at different companies to see who they have in certain positions.  LinkedIn is an excellent place to start.  You can look at people in a certain industry in your geographical area.

3) Decide the best method to reach out to them

If it’s someone you’re already acquainted with, you can simply call them and request some of their time.  If you want to reach out to someone perhaps you’ve only met once at a networking event or you were introduced briefly through a friend,  you may want to e-mail them.

If it is a complete stranger, you may want to start with a non-traditional method like snail mail.  Everyone loves to receive something in the mail and since not that many people actually put a stamp on things and mail them anymore, your letter will stand out.  Then you can follow up within 1 week with a phone call. (I’ve actually tried this method before and got 6 out of 10 people to do an informational interview with me.)

You can also use LinkedIn to connect with them initially.   Be sure to personalize your invitation to say something like “Hello, I am really impressed with your profile and I would like to have you in my network.”  Wait a week or so after they have accepted your invitation to follow up and ask for the informational interview.

4) Explain who you are and what you want from them

This is where the 60 second commercial comes in.  Be prepared to sell yourself and let them know who you are.  Also let them know what your goal is and how you believe insight from them could help you in your career.  What you want is 15 – 20 minutes of their time FACE-TO-FACE.  15 – 20 minutes is all it really takes if you are fully prepared.  If you’re calling them on the phone, I would suggest you use a phone script because you may be nervous and this will help you stay on task.  You can jot down the key points you want to be sure to convey.   Make sure you know your schedule over the next few days so you can easily schedule an appointment with them.

5)  Arrive/Leave on time and be prepared with your 10 questions

Treat it like a regular interview and arrive 15 minutes early and dress professionally. Also, leave on time unless the person being interviewed wants to extend it.  You will have to pay attention to their body language to see if they are ready to end the meeting.  They will most likely let you lead the conversation so have your 10 questions written down.  Of course, it is up to you what you want to ask but here are some suggestions:

a.  What’s a typical day like in this position?  What are your duties?

b.  What personal qualities or abilities are important to be successful in this job/industry?

c.  What part of the job do you find most satisfying?  Most challenging?

d.  What training or education is required for this type of work?

e.  How do you see jobs in this field changing in the future?

f.  What special advice would you give a person entering this field?

g.  Which professional journals and organizations would help me learn more about this industry?

6) Show you’ve done your research and FLATTER THEM!! 

Be sure to let them know what research you have done on them and the company.  Go to the company website and find some key facts about the company.  You can also google the company name and see what comes up.  LinkedIn is a great place to get information on the person you’re interviewing.

Flatter!!  Flatter!  Flatter!! Trust me….flattery still works!!  Most people are humbled when someone actually takes a genuine interest in them and what they do.  This makes them more willing to share information.

7) Have them give you feedback on your resume

Perhaps, the most important thing you should do while you’re in the interview is ask them to look at your resume.  Ask what they think of your experience so far and if there are some areas where you need to enhance your qualifications.   Having them look at your resume serves dual purposes:  a) it lets you know what you need to do to improve it and b) it gets your resume in front of an industry professional and perhaps they will realize you might be a good fit for an opening at their company.   Be prepared in case it turns into an actual job interview! (This happened to me for one of my informational interviews.  The employer looked at my resume and saw all of my qualifications and had me go to HR on the spot and fill out a job application for one of their current openings.  I was called for an interview weeks later.)

8) Get referrals

Before you leave, you MUST get referrals.  Everyone knows someone else at their company or in their industry that has just as much knowledge as they do.  When you ask for referrals you can say, “Is there anyone else that you know who you think I should talk to to get some insight?  When I contact him/her, may I use your name?”

As you leave, give them your business card and get theirs as well.   (Don’t have business cards?  Check out my blog – “You Don’t Have to Have a Business to Have Business Cards”)

9) Follow up within 24 hours

It is imperative that you send a thank you letter showing appreciation for their time and insight.  Mention something specific from the conversation to show what you learned.  If they had some suggestions for your resume, make the changes and send the updated version with your thank you letter.  Also, end it by saying something like, “Because our meeting was so brief, I was not able to completely share my background with you.  I have included my LinkedIn profile/ blog / online portfolio to give you additional information about me.”

10) Do it all over again with the next contact

FAQ – Interviews

1.  How early should I be for an interview?  You should arrive 15 minutes before your scheduled time.  Use the extra time to browse through your notes one last time and observe the atmosphere.  Keep in mind the interview begins as soon as you walk through the door.  So don’t talk on your cell phone or underestimate the receptionist!  If you arrive more than 15 minutes before your interview, sit in your car and wait.  You don’t want to show up too early and make the interviewer feel rushed.

2.  What should I bring with me to the interview?  Bring several copies of your resume, company research, questions to ask, portfolio, references or recommendation letters, business cards, paper, pen and anything else they told you to bring.  It is better to have it and not need it, then to need it and not have it.  Make sure all of this information is in a folder or binder — no loose papers.

3.  What should I know about the interview beforehand?  Try to find out as much as you can about what will take place so you will be prepared.  Will you have to fill out an application?  Will there be multiple interviews during your appointment?  Will you be given a tour of the facility?  Will you have to take an assessment test?  Do they have the proper A/V equipment if you are giving a presentation?

4.  How should I dress for the interview?  If you are unsure you can simply ask.  They may say professional dress and they may say business casual.  You can always observe what the current employees are wearing and use that as a guide.  But keep in mind they already have their jobs so they may be dressed “down.”  So generally I would say “dress to impress.”  Don’t wear anything (including jewelry, make up, perfume, cologne, hairstyle) that is going to leave a negative impression on them.  You may have a little bit more leeway if you are going into the fashion industry or a creative field.

5.  What if I forget the interviewer’s name or don’t know how to pronounce it?  Simply call before your interview and ask the receptionist or administrative assistant.  This is a big “NO NO” that could be avoided very easily.

6.  What if I am running late for an interview or can’t make it at all?  If you will be late, call the interviewer and give them an estimated time of arrival and the reason for your tardiness.  If something has come up and you can’t make it at all, be honest.  Ask if it is possible for you to reschedule.  Keep in mind being late or not keeping your appointment is strike one against you and it is a HUGE strike.  The employer may just forfeit your interview altogether.  If you do get the chance to still meet with the interviewer, genuinely apologize and be sure to make up for the mishap by giving a great interview!

7.  What research should I do on the company?  You should first start with the company website and look up their values, mission statement, future plans, products, services, honors, awards, current news, training and development opportunities and job openings.  You should jot these things down and familiarize yourself with them.  Your notes will come in handy when asked “What do you know about our company?” or “Why do you want to work here?”  You can also check out the Better Business Bureau, LinkedIn, Google, Twitter and Facebook for additional information.  Don’t forget to look up the actual interviewer and know 2 – 3 things about him/her as well.  Not knowing anything about the company could be strike 2!

8.  What questions should I ask during the interview?  You should have at least 3 questions to ask the interviewer such as:  A) “What would be a typical day for someone who is hired in this position?”  B) “What kind of training program do you have?”  C)  “What would be expected of me in the first 90 days if I’m hired in this position?”  D) “What is your management style?”   E)  “When do you plan to make a decision as to whom you are going to hire?”   You should ALWAYS have questions.  Just like the interviewer is trying to see if you are a good fit; you should be trying to see if the company is a good fit for you as well.  No questions shows that you are not really interested in the job.

9.  What if I am asked an illegal question in an interview?  Sadly some employers do not know what questions are illegal.   Generally questions related to marital status, having children, race, religion, sex, filing for bankruptcy, hospitalization history, having a car, or garnishment of wages are illegal.  So when asked an illegal question respond to the INTENT of the question instead of the question itself.  For example if an employer is trying to figure out if you are married he/she may ask, “Will your husband/wife  have a problem with you traveling for this job?”  Your response should be, “I don’t foresee anything that would prevent me from fulfilling the duties associated with this job.”

10.  How soon should I follow up after an interview?  You should follow up immediately — definitely within 24 hours.  You want to do it right away so you don’t forget and so they don’t forget who you are.  You should thank them for taking the time to interview you and giving you the opportunity to learn more about their company.  This can be done through an e-mail, voice message or handwritten note.  I would suggest you mention something specific that you talked about in the interview to make them remember you.  Also, if you are sending an e-mail include additional information such as recommendation letters, LinkedIn profile, blogs, online portfolio or video resume.  Remember, each interviewer needs his/her own individual thank you.

The Art of Interviewing – Get Them to Like You

It is the day of the interview.  You are professionally dressed.  You have done your research.  You have practiced answering interview questions and you have your questions written down that you want to ask the employer.  You are all set! Your main goal is to get this job.   Not exactly…..your main goal should be to get them to LIKE you.  If an employer really likes you, they will “find” something for you to do.  Even if they select someone else for the particular position you are interviewing for, they will contact you about doing something else within the company.

A few years ago I applied for a position as an Administrative Assistant for the Executive Vice President of a company.  On the day of the interview the Exec. VP was running late so he had another manager start the interview.  About 10 minutes into the interview he came in and observed me as the manager continued to ask me questions.  When he finally spoke the first thing he said was, “I can tell by your demeanor, your resume, and how you are responding to these questions that you could be doing a lot more for our company than the job you applied for.”  Wow…talk about shocked!!  He proceeded to tell me about the other openings they had available and asked what area I would be interested in.  I picked Career Services and he had the Regional Director of Career Services, who just so happened to be at the corporate office that day, interview me right on the spot!  I got the job and begin coaching others on how to be successful in their careers.

Now,  I will be honest and say I didn’t go into the interview with any expectation other than to answer some questions and maybe get the job as an Administrative Assistant.  But, I now know the power of getting them to LIKE you.  Had I not taken the interview seriously and not been professional and given it my all, I would not have impressed the Exec. VP and consequently would not have found my passion.

So, for your next interview THINK BIG….don’t just focus on getting the particular job you applied for.  Go in with the mindset that they need you at their company and you are going to show them why.  Here’s how you get them to LIKE you:

1. Be nice to everyone you meet. On the day of the interview be nice and professional with everyone you come in contact with.  DO NOT underestimate the receptionist!

2.  Make the best of the situation and be enthusiastic.  Even if you find that the job might not be a good fit for you still be professional and answer the questions the best you can.

3. Show them who you really are.  Chances are you have many skills that would be useful in several positions in the company.  Be sure to convey that to the employer.

4. Show interest.  Asking questions and taking notes is a great way to show your interest in the job and the company.  Don’t forget to do your research beforehand.

5. Solve a problem for them.  Ask what some of the challenges are that they are currently facing and offer a solution to the problem right on the spot.  If you can do this, you are a genius!

6. Follow up.   Follow up with EVERYONE you interviewed with.  Thank them individually for the opportunity and send them additional information about you – recommendation letters, video resume, LinkedIn profile, personal website, blog, etc.  This will keep you on their mind.