Your resume is polished and your cover letter is personalized — but are you missing this key component in the job-search process?
Business-events professionals are intimately familiar with the benefits of networking at conferences and events. But when you’re looking for a new job, whether within your current company or outside of it, one tool — known as the informational interview — takes networking a step further.
“An informational interview is a meeting featuring a conversation about a particular company or industry between you and someone who may be in a position to help you get a job in the future, either directly or indirectly,” Andy Teach, author of From Graduation to Corporation, told Forbes in an interview.
These informational interviews are essential to helping you find out more about the type of industry, company, or role you’re interested in. “You may think you already know all about a certain position, but speaking to someone directly gives you the opportunity to test your assumptions,” Dorie Clark, author of Stand Out Networking, told the Harvard Business Review.
Once you identify the person or persons with whom you’d like to set up interviews, reach out and briefly speak to them about “your background, why you’re interested in their company, and why you want to specifically meet with that person,” Teach said. “You should also mention that you realize that there might not be a job available now but you’d love to speak with them in person for 20 minutes if they have the time.”
Once you have an informational interview scheduled, prepare for it as if it were an actual job interview, experts say. Research industry trends, the company, the position you’re interested in, and the individual you’ll be speaking to. Plan out what you want to talk about and prepare a list of questions to ask your interviewee. Clark suggested asking them a framework of five questions along the lines of Daniel Porot’s “The Pie Method”:
- How do you get into this line of work?
- What do you enjoy about it?
- What’s not so great about it?
- What’s changing in the sector?
- What kinds of people do well in this industry?
The idea behind this type of questioning, Clark said, is to “spot the roles and fields that match your skills and experience and give you an understanding of how top performers are described.”
Another key to a successful informational interview is how you close it. Job seekers are advised to ask questions such as: “Who else should I be speaking with?” or “Can you connect me with anyone else for more information?” These referrals could lead you to even more information about the industry or position you’re interested in, but also create an actionable relationship with your interviewee and a reason to follow up with him or her.
As with any interview, a thank-you note is a must, Teach said, adding that whether it’s sent via email or snail mail, the follow-up is a must to “make sure they know how much you appreciated them giving you their time.”
Now that you’ve mastered the informational interview, find out what you can do to turbocharge that initial relationship into a valuable mentorship.