Three Tips for Acing Informational Interviews
Informational interviews are powerful career management tools.
They typically take the form of short meetings with accomplished professionals who examine your career and share their insight and experience. They often address such questions as whether you should switch industries, move to a different firm, take an international assignment, or become an entrepreneur.
Informational interviews combine two foundations of career management: research and relationship building.
Andy Lopata, “one of Europe’s leading business networking strategists,” according to the Financial Times, presented a webinar on how to arrange and conduct informational interviews. Here are a few specific points that are especially worth highlighting.
1. An informational interview is not a job interview, but be ready if it turns into one.
Informational interviews are valuable at all stages of your career, but they are most common when you are actively transitioning between jobs.
When you sit down with someone from an organization with open positions that you are interested in, you will be tempted to pitch yourself as a potential hire. That is not the point of the informational interview. You are there to learn and to build a relationship with a network contact. That’s probably how you framed the purpose of the meeting when you requested it, so be sure to conform to the expectations that you set.
But be prepared if your interviewer takes the meeting in another direction. While you should plan to maximize the learning opportunity, you need to be ready to discuss your unique value proposition to their organization if your interviewer transitions the discussion into more of an actual job interview.
Bring a copy of your resume, but wait to be asked before presenting it. As you build rapport and a personal connection with your contact, remain professional at all times, regardless of the tone of the meeting.
2. Bring your best listening skills.
At an informational interview, you are there to learn from your source. In many cases — especially if you do your research ahead of time — what you are really there to gain is nuanced information and perspective.
Just hearing your contact’s words as you try to come up with what to say next is a waste of time. Listen attentively and ask meaningful questions. This will show that you have internalized the available information and perspective. It also demonstrates your respect for your interviewer.
There is an oft-cited Maya Angelou quote that ends: “people will never forget how you made them feel.” Even though an informational interview is not a formal job interview, assume that any encounter you have with your contact is an audition for a potential opportunity with their organization.
3. Always follow up.
Lopata has the 24-7-30 rule — follow up with the individual within 24 hours, seven days, and 30 days after your meeting.
After the 24-hour period, send an email thanking the interviewer for their time. At the end of seven days, send a handwritten thank you note with a message about how something the interviewer said had particular meaning or value to you. At 30 days, call your interviewer on the phone, share your progress, and offer a reciprocating gesture, maybe an introduction to someone who could help them or a book or article recommendation that they might appreciate.
As Lopata explained, this follow up ensures that when you do reach out to your contact again, they will remember you.
Follow up is important with any person you add to your network, but it’s even more vital if you may have an additional ask of that individual. Those who have the experience, insight, and perspective to be rewarding prospects for an informational interview may also be well suited as potential mentors. It is much easier for them to say yes to such a request if they have already had a positive experience with you.
If you have insights on informational interviews, including tips on how to make the most of them, please share your thoughts in the comments section below. And if you are looking for more on informational interviewing, listen to this Career Conversation interview with Patty Buchek.
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All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.
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