“Informational interviews” are interview-style conversations arranged by job seekers, not employers. While you may be submitting resume after resume and waiting by the phone to receive a standard interview invitation, the informational version lies completely under your control, and will take place whenever you’re ready to reach out and make it happen.
Of course, informational interviews won’t provide a direct path to a job offer, but they do the next best thing: they establish meaningful face-to-face contact between you and someone who may be able to help you. And since the working world is built on social connections (don’t let anyone tell you otherwise), a little good will and personal advice can go a long way.
Here’s how to set up and execute an effective informational interview. If you follow these steps and are pleased with the results, set up another one. And then another. Keep repeating the process until you’re off the job market. And if you decide to keep going even after that, feel free. At that point, you won’t call these meetings informational interviews anymore—you’ll just call them “lunch.”
Step 1: Choose your companion. Search through your network of contacts, which doesn’t just include friends. Your network also consists of people in your chosen industry who you haven’t met, like friends of friends, your parent’s friends, former coworkers, and two-degree connections on LinkedIn. The wider you cast your net, the bolder you’ll have to be about reaching out—but this boldness can be both a skill and an asset.
Step 2: Reach out digitally. Send the person an email or private message asking them politely for a few minutes of their time. Be specific, but leave the small scheduling details open to adjustment. For example, say: “I’m hoping I can sit down with you in your office sometime next week for about ten minutes, so I can ask you a few questions about the (fill in the blank) aspect of the industry. I’d love to hear your advice.”
Step 3: If your message is ignored, send a single gentle reminder. If your contact responds, respectfully set up a firm date and time. Let the person choose the time if she offers, and if not, suggest a few dates.
Step 4: Show up for the meeting on time (early is just as bad as late). And be prepared. Bring a set of intelligent questions about the field or company that interests you. And if possible, bring a few personal/professional questions as well. Ask the person how she chose this business, what steps she took to get where she is, and what qualities allow a person to excel in the field the way she has.
Step 5: Pay the bill. If you’re meeting in a coffee shop or restaurant, pay the check.
Step 6: End the meeting at the 10-minute mark, unless the person is still speaking and clearly enjoying the conversation. If she is, gently point out that 10 minutes have passed and let her know that you respect her time.
Step 7: Say goodbye, and send a handwritten thank-you note to the person’s office or home before the sun sets on the same day you met. In your note, let the person know that you value her advice and will keep her in the loop regarding your job search.
LiveCareer (www.livecareer.com), home to America’s #1 Resume Builder, connects job seekers of all experience levels and career categories to all the tools, resources and insider tips needed to win the job. Find LiveCareer on Facebook and visit LiveCareer’s Google+ page for even more tips and advice on all things career and resume-related.
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