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The 411 on Informational Interviews

By Kristen Carterunusual-interview-questions
Contributor, Career Services

One of the new networking strategies that you may have heard buzz about is informational interviews. This term was developed by Richard Nelson Bolles, author of What Color Is Your Parachute?, and its purpose is to gather information on a particular industry and/or specific company you may wish to work at one day. Think of it as an information gathering session, not an opportunity to ask for a job. This is an excellent strategy for a potential job seeker or career switcher to employ; however, it does require substantial initiative and persistence as you must convince these professionals why they should meet with you.

Now, you may be asking yourself, how do I do it? How do I locate and approach potential contacts? Elliott Bell addresses these very questions in his article titled, “How to Ask for an Informational Interview (and Get a “Yes”).

  1. Find the right people. Bell advises to start by simply jotting down a list of companies you would love to work for, as well as job titles you may be interested in. He encourages the use of LinkedIn to locate people who meet these requirements, but to then utilize email to reach out. You will also want to consider both the size of the company and the level of the professional you are attempting to contact. For instance, a senior executive at a large company likely does not have the time to spare.
  2. Perfect the art of the ask. You will want to send a clear and concise message that explains what you are looking for, but also clearly demonstrates that you are not looking to talk with him or her to land a job.
  3. Follow up, and be pleasantly persistent. Don’t give up if you do not receive a response the first go-around. Continue to follow up. While you may be concerned that your persistence might be a turn off, though in fact, your persistence will likely pay off if you sandwich it with kindness rather than showing your own annoyance at the lack of response.

Your informational interview may present you with employment leads, which is great. However, do not expect any leads as this should not be your main objective. Your intention should be to build your network of professionals in your field of interest. Always remember that the professional you are interviewing is doing you a favor by giving his or her time and providing valuable information. As a result, you will want to demonstrate your respect by meeting no longer than 15 minutes. Lastly, like a real interview, you do not want to go in blind since you want to demonstrate that you are prepared, which can be accomplished by researching the company and/or industry in advance.

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