Tips for Conducting Informational Interviews

My last entry explained why I’ve become a fan of doing informational interviews, and why I think they are invaluable to finding a new job.  On a recent trip to my hair dresser, I mentioned that I was looking for a job and primarily relying on informational interviews to network.  She politely listened to me and then let me know that what I call informational interviewing is how the Hispanic culture routinely establishes connections to a wide variety services and opportunities.  I realized that for me, approaching someone for a networking opportunity feels like I am imposing on their time.  Yet, for people with strong cultural ties, networking is natural and part of belonging to an interdependent and giving community.

Statistically, only 20-30% of jobs are filled on the open market.  That means the remaining unpublished job openings won’t be found on public list services.  In an article on Hcareers.com, Dumas states that “approximately 80% of all jobs filled are done so in what is known as the ‘hidden’ or ‘unpublished’ job market.”  This means the majority of jobs are filled by word-of-mouth and network referrals.  Unfortunately, when hearing the word “network,” many people visibly pale and imagine themselves going up to a perfect stranger, smiling shakily and saying something like, “Isn’t the rain/sunshine/fog/lightening/cumulus cloud we’re having today, amazing?”  Please God, never let me talk about the weather again!

So how does one go about conducting informational interviews?

You start by telling everyone you know that you are looking for a new opportunity—even your hairdresser!  Ask if they know someone who works in your industry or area of interest, and if they would kindly arrange an introduction.  For myself, introductions have mostly been via email; however, several friends have actually arranged face-to-face meetings for me.  Try to always schedule face-to-face interviews.  In contrast to email, telephone or Skype exchanges, talking face-to-face gives both parties a chance to experience each other’s personality through rich conversation.

When you actually meet with the person, be prepared to share a little about yourself—5 to 10 minutes.  Give the person a brief synopsis of your work experience, the type of work you’re looking for, and something personal about yourself, such as family, hobbies, or volunteer work.  People are more willing to share contacts and recommend you to their friends if they believe they can trust you.  One gentleman spent the first half-hour asking me questions about myself before he was willing to be interviewed.  I happily obliged and it turned out to be one of my most valuable interviews.

  • Dress professionally.  Like it or not, it is human nature to judge others by their appearance.  So make certain your grooming and dress reflect someone who is intelligent and lives by personal values that evoke trust.  Now is not the time to wear your favorite, low-cut t-shirt and jeans.
  • Arrive on time.  Or better yet, 10 minutes early (this probably goes without saying).  Arriving early allows you to breath deeply and clear your mind.
  • Be prepared for the interview with a set of questions you developed in advance.  The questions should reflect that you’ve done your homework.  Find out everything you can about the person and their industry or line of work, and from there, formulate your questions.
  • Tip:  It is better to ask questions that invite a thoughtful response, rather than a yes or no answer.
  • Tip:  Make the first question about them.  “How did you become the _____?”  Or, “What do you like about working at _______?”  Not only is this an effective ice breaker, it provides you with valuable information about what it takes to become successful.  Nothing wrong with emulating successful people.
    • Ask if it is OK for you to take notes.  Most will readily agree and even be pleasantly surprised.  On the other hand, some may find it distracting; so be polite and verify first.
    • Keep track of time and be ready to end the interview on time.  If the person indicates they are interested in going on with the interview, that’s great.  However, out of respect for their time, allow the person you are interviewing to initiate extending the conversation beyond the stated time limit.
    • Before you close the interview, ask if they know of any openings that would fit your search criteria, and find out if they know anyone else who might be of assistance.  Ask for contact information or ask them to introduce you via email.
    • Keep track of everything you learn and use it to move you forward in your search.
    • Contact your new referrals and request a short 30-minute interview at a time and place that is mutually convenient for you.  Some will be available to meet for coffee or lunch, and others will prefer to meet in their office.
    • Follow-up with a thank you note.  While some recommend sending a handwritten thank you note, I have decided to send a typed letter, or email instead.  First of all, my handwriting style is not the best, and secondly, a typed email is much more professional.  A typed email or letter also lets me demonstrate that I can form an articulate sentence.

Some suggest handing out resumes to the people you meet with.  However, others strongly suggest that handing out resumes destroys your credibility.  Presumably, you didn’t set up the interview by saying you were there to ask them for a job, or they may have declined the interview and told you to forward your resume to HR, instead.  I never bring a resume with me to the interview.  When asked to, I forward my resume electronically, and I am always willing to drop it by another time.

Life can be a merry-go-round and I would rather laugh than cry!

I encourage you to try informational interviewing.  Approach this part of the job hunt with a positive attitude and treat the experience like a treasure hunt.  When I told a former colleague that I was going to begin conducting informational interviews, she told me that every position she ever held came from having used the very same technique.  She had never responded to an ad for employment.

I am consistently overwhelmed by how gracious and generous people are with their time.  Not only do most of them voluntarily extend the amount of time we spend together, they also willingly arrange for me to meet their friends and colleagues.  I believe the people I’ve interviewed sincerely wish me success.  Although I do submit applications in response to ads and public listserve websites each week, I am convinced that my next tribe will show up because I have developed these valuable relationships through informational interviews.  Someone in my network is going to know someone, who knows of a position, for which I would be just right.

Michelle Dumas, http://www.hcareers.com/us/resourcecenter/tabid/306/articleid/600/default.aspx

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3 Comments

  1. Oh yes! I had a blast doing informational interviews! And me too, jobs came later because those folks remembered me. That adage, people hire people they know, is truth.

    I’m one who says in the strongest terms possible to NEVER EVER bring a resume. Leave it at home. Don’t even have one in your car.

    My take is that if you have a resume with you, you were dishonest with the person from the first moment, and that destroys credibility just as you said. The purpose is research, NOT sneakily asking for a job. (I made this mistake ONCE and still remember the look on the man’s face. Ouch! No job later, too.)

    Nicely done. This is so helpful, to have the experience in the trenches speaking and teaching.

    More! More!

    –L.

    Reply
  2. LOL! Thanks L. And especially thank you for being the one to give me the heads up about doing informational interviews in the first place. You came to my rescue when I was trying to figure out what the heck was I going to do now?????

    Actually, probably half of the people I’ve interviewed asked me to forward my resume to them before we shook hands and said good-bye. I sent them a PDF.

    Reply
    • I missed your reply–WP isn’t giving me ALL the notifications, just the ones it feels like that day. !!

      I’m so tickled that this technique worked well for you. Puts a FRIENDLY spin on job-hunting!

      Oh boy oh boy oh boy–sending resumes to people who now know you! yaaaaaay! Can’t wait to hear what happens next!

      Reply

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