Making the Most of Informational Interviews

I got my current position by starting with an informational interview, and so, I know how effective they can be.  However, I have talked with many job seekers who, while aware of the benefits, were not 100% sure how to make the very most of information interviews in their own career search process.

Therefore, I have reached out to career experts across the web for their recommendations on how to take advantage of informational interviews and how to get the most out of them.

Be prepared. We all know that fortune favors the well-prepared. Come to the informational interview with a list of intelligent comments and/or questions. Just having the list will diminish the stress of the interview. Secondly, it will lend structure and demonstrate good organizational skills on your part. You may not have time to discuss each item on your list, but your will certainly exemplify your seriousness-of-purpose. First impressions in such situations often lead to job offers. – Dr. Marlene Caroselli,

Really pick their brains! You’ll get the most out of an informational interview if you really take the opportunity to pick their brains and ask questions that will give you an insider’s glimpse into the position. This gives you the opportunity to ask some questions that might otherwise be considered taboo during a job interview. What’s a typical day like? What do they like most and least about their work? What do they like about working for that company? Would they do anything differently earlier in their career? How do they recommend breaking in to the field? Of course err on the side of caution if you think a question may be too personal, but you should definitely ask questions that show that you are genuinely curious and excited about the field. – Laurie Berenson,

Don’t ask for a job! Most people make that mistake in their anxiety to try to turn the informational interview into a job interview.  The person that the candidate is speaking with knows that the caller is looking for a job and if there is a match he or she will figure out how to use their skills.  I always recommend to clients that I’m coaching to ask the person lots of questions about how they got started in the field and where the field is going.  At the beginning of the interview, keep the focus on the person that you’re interviewing.  The trick is to then artfully bring the conversation around to the skills of the caller or interviewer.  – Ron Katz,

Aim high, but also aim lower. Go for someone who is a few rungs above you on the food chain. Job hunters sometimes go for the big cheese. That’s OK as they may be able to offer you a job, but if they don’t have any openings, it’s less effective. They often are out of touch in terms of how to get a job and what it takes to be at the lower level. – David Couper,

Ask for referrals. If you have identified and secured an informational interview with someone in a company, functional area or industry in which you are interested, they are most likely connected with others in similar positions, companies and industries with whom you might also like to interview.  If appropriate, ask them at the end of the interview if they know any contacts to whom they could refer you who might be able to share more experiences and insights in your chosen field etc.  These referrals not only make it easier to schedule the next informational interview, but if within the same company, can also help you build a network of champions who might go to bat for you at the next opportunity. – Chris Perry,

Offer to help them. This is common courtesy, but very rarely done. Always ask before you conclude an informational interview “How can I help you?”   – Paul Copcutt,

Thank you to all of the experts who contributed to this wealth of interview insight!

Chris Perry, MBA is a Gen Y brand and marketing generator, a career search and personal branding expert and the founder of Career Rocketeer, Launchpad, Blogaristo and more.

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