If you're curious about what's happening at a certain company you're interested in, want to know what kind of experience is really needed to break into a related field, want the skinny on what other organizations you might want to target, or have any one of a thousand other career development questions, asking for an informational interview is the best way to get your questions answered and get acquainted with new people.
You may already have some of the basic principles down about informational interviews:
- Explain briefly who you are and why you'd like to meet.
- Suggest a specific amount of time for the meeting (30 minutes or less).
- Come prepared with questions.
- Don't ask for a job.
- Write a thank you note.
Since it can feel daunting to email or call someone you don't know personally (even if you've been referred to them by a mutual acquaintance), you want the experience to be worthwhile. Here are four key tips for getting the most from your time:
1. Define the outcomes you want from the interview.
Do you want to get on someone's radar? Learn more about an organization's culture? Find out about a specific career path? Figure out how you can increase your chances of being competitive in a new field?
Decide what you want to get out of the interview and create your questions based on those desired outcomes.
Craft more questions than you think you'll need and write them in priority order.
You may get an hour with someone or you may only get ten minutes. Write down all the questions you can think of (the more detailed, the better). QuintCareers.com has thought of a bunch already for you, to get you started.
Then rearrange the order of your questions so they're in priority order. This way if your meeting is cut short, you've already asked the most important questions.
2. Research the organization and person you are meeting with.
Take the time to read not only the company website but any recent articles written about the organization. Check out the interviewer's LinkedIn profile and see if they have a Twitter ID.
When you bother to do some homework you are able to ask better questions and it leaves a good impression.
3. Ask for referrals to others.
Think of every informational interview as a potential gateway into more interviews and more new contacts. At the conclusion of the interview, after you've established rapport, let your interviewer know you'd like more information (and on what).
If she suggests people for you to contact, ask whether you can use her name when you inquire or, better yet, ask wether she's willing to send an introductory email to that person and copy you on it. Then it's very easy for you to reach out to the new potential contact.
4. Keep in touch.
After you've sent a thank you note to the interviewer, decide how (or if) you want to keep in touch with him. If you hit it off, if you have mutual interests, or if you're now extremely excited about his organization, you'll probably want to keep in touch.
Check in with your gut as you decide on an initial plan, however don't be afraid to push yourself a bit if you know you have a tendency to hang back.
Possible ways you might keep in touch include:
- Ask to connect with him on LinkedIn. One advantage of connecting here is that if he stays current on LinkedIn, you'll be able to see if they change jobs. You could then send a note of congratulations.
- Follow him on Twitter and engage with him every so often.
- Email him every so often with a link to an article that relates to your meeting, or with a comment about something you read about them or their organization, or a brief status update and a question.
- Offer him something he would value. Depending on you and the interviewer's situations, you might offer to interview him for your blog, volunteer for an upcoming event he's running or do some other volunteer work.
Then write down your keep-in-touch plan and create tasks in your calendar now.
Of course, you shouldn't try to force a connection if you're getting lukewarm responses or can't think of any good reason why you'd want to keep in touch. Your energy is much better spent building and maintaining quality connections.
Professionals are meeting new professionals all the time. Don't be shy about asking for someone's time; simply do so respectfully and thoughtfully. Most of us are very open and willing to meet new people, offer suggestions and answer questions about ourselves.
However, don't take it personally if the answer is no, or if you never get a response to your request for an informational interview. There are a thousand possible reasons for being turned down that have nothing to do with you (too busy, in a career transition themselves, going through tough times personally, simply not interested in talking to anyone).
What are some of your best suggestions for informational interviews that really pay off?