Need to Get a Job? 6 Tips for Great Informational Interviews

man with tablet in office
Young man holding a tablet, offering tips | Source: iStock

Job searching may have gone digital in recent years, but there’s one old-school technique you might want to embrace in your quest for a new position. Informational interviews can yield real results for job seekers. Thirty-six percent of executives surveyed by Accountemps said they were fielding more requests for informational interviews than a decade ago, and 84% said if they were impressed by someone in an informal meeting, they’d be more likely to let them know about future job openings.

“Informational interviews are an excellent use of job search time, especially for new grads who need to figure out their options and expand their networks. It’s a low-pressure way to ask people for a bit of help,” Brie Reynolds, the director of online content at FlexJobs, told The Cheat Sheet.

If you’re trying to learn more about a particular field or role, an informational interview is a great way to do so. (What exactly does an assistant account manager or junior financial analyst do all day, really?) These interviews are a way to let a company know you’re interested in what they do and looking for work, which might give you a leg up on other candidates.

“It’s a great way to get on someone’s radar in case a job opens up at their company,” Reynolds said. “By having done an informational interview with them, they’ll know you’re in the market, and can give you a heads up, perhaps even before the job is released publicly.”

Informational interviews may help your job search, but don’t spam every one of your contacts with a request to meet for coffee just yet. You’ll get better results if you take a strategic approach to these meetings. Here are six tips to help recent grads and other job seekers have a successful informational interview.

1. Work your network

social network sites open in browser windwos
Social networking sites | Source: iStock

Not sure who to reach out to for an informational interview? Look to your network first. People like to help those with whom they share a connection. If you can get a mutual friend, family member, or former colleague to introduce you to someone at the company where you want to work, setting up a meeting will likely be easier. Your college’s career center may also be able to put in you in touch with alumni who work in your field, and fraternities and other clubs you’re a member of can be a good source of contacts as well.

“The stronger the connection, the more willing your contact will be to help,” Jason Niad, a senior managing director at The Execu|Search Group, a recruiting firm, told The Cheat Sheet.

2. Connect with the right people

When making a list of people to contact for an interview, focus on those who will be able to help you the most. If your mom’s co-worker’s husband heads up the accounting department at your target company and you’re angling for a job in IT, he may not be able to help you much directly — but a polite email could lead to an introduction to someone who can. Nor is cold-emailing a company’s CEO and asking to sit down for coffee likely to get you very far.

Rather than casting a wide net, try to connect with people “who are at your level or the level above yours at organizations you are interested in,” Niad said. “Speaking with someone who would be your potential manager is a great way to learn more about what this type of role encompasses as well as the growth path of the position.”

3. Ask smart questions

two young men meeting in a coffee shop
Two men talking over coffee| Source: iStock

“Approach an informational interview as a conversation,” Niad said. During your meeting – which should last somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes – you can ask both general questions about the industry as well as more personal questions about the person’s career path and their role in the company. They might even be able to point you to other organizations where your skills could be a good fit, Niad added. Informational interviews also offer an opportunity to further expand your professional network.

“One of the biggest questions you should ask, towards the end of the interview, is, ‘Who else would you recommend I speak with?’ Whether it’s other people in their network or at their company, most people will be willing to introduce you to one or two other people. This is where you begin to expand your network and really ignite your job search,” Reynolds said.

4. Don’t beg for a job

Yes, you’re scheduling informational interviews because you’re on the hunt for work. But you don’t want to make your desire for a new job the center of the conversation. Instead, treat these interviews like fact-finding sessions. You’re trying to learn more about a particular company and industry and how you might break in. Directly asking your contact for a job can get awkward, fast.

“You don’t want to specifically ask for a job during the meeting, or say that you are planning to leave your employer,” Niad said. “You don’t want to put too much pressure on your contact, or make them feel that you are only meeting with them to find a new job.”

5. Prepare as if it was a traditional interview

two men shaking hands
Handshake | Source: iStock

An informational interview may be more informal than a traditional sit-down with HR, but you should still take it seriously. Dress professionally, research the company and the person you’re meeting in advance, and come prepared to sell yourself, just in case your casual networking conversation turns into something more.

“The informational interview is not a job interview, but it can quickly turn into one if the executive feels you might be a good fit for a current job opening,” Bill Driscoll, a district president for Accountemps, said in a statement.

6. Keep the conversation going

Just like a formal interview, follow up your informational interview with a thank you note. If you and your contact agreed on next steps at the end of your meeting, like sending over a copy of your resume or connecting on LinkedIn, follow through. Beyond that, use your instincts to guide your next steps.

“There’s no right way to keep a relationship going, so depending on how the interview went, you might wait a few months or even a year before reaching back out, or you might follow up with them sooner to ask a question or take them for a coffee,” Reynolds said. “And always be sure to offer your own help if they should need it! The key to a great networking relationship is mutual assistance.”

Follow Megan on Facebook and Twitter