[06.27.09]
80 great comments!

5 Keys To Successful Informational Interviews

informational interviews, job interview, keys, success

I wrote a post recently in which I suggested that an elite class of employed folks wasn’t doing its solemn duty.  The duty?  To play a proactive and positive role to support the effort of job seekers. Specifically, to do informational interviews. Are you a member of the employed elite?

After I wrote that post, I received a very important reminder from a networking friend. While my post included a warning for job seekers (i.e. respect your network, say thank you, and don’t ask for too much), he reminded me of the pink elephant in the networking room.
That elephant is the fact that too many job seekers break the social contract of networking.  They have effectively pushed some very influential employed executives out of the game.  Those executives are no longer helping job seekers because their experience is that job seekers take advantage.
Specifically, he said, job seekers are blowing it during informational interviews. The classic “bait and switch”.
The big “no no”?  Asking for or about a job during the interview.
Now, some of you in transition may say:  “Are you kidding me?  I go through all the trouble to do this, and I can’t even ask about a job?  Sounds like a long run for a short slide!”
If that’s in your head, then you need to go to networking reform school.  I personally think that most job seekers that make this mistake, however, do so out of ignorance or desperation.  But it doesn’t matter why you did it.  You did it.
And as soon as you do, the original value of networking goes out the window. Instead of leaving an executive with a positive impression of you, you have put them on the defensive and have reminded them of why they normally avoid information interviews.
You see, information interviews are somewhat counter-intuitive to a job seeker.  It is not about immediate value (although that can be the result).  It is first about learning.  It is also about leaving a good impression.
And you can’t leave a good impression if you put any pressure on this person who has kindly given up 30 minutes of their day for you.  Sorry.
So, what are the benefits of informational interviews anyway?
Well, I think there are three:
  1. You learn vital information about a company, industry or management team.  This is the primary value that should be understood by both parties.  It can help you determine whether or not your experience/skills are a good match.  You may actually find that the best result of informational interviews is that you don’t think there’s a match.  Good to know.
  2. By doing the above well, you leave a positive impression with a key and potentially influential person in your target company or industry.
  3. You may learn of others with whom you can have a similar discussion.  On some occasions, you may even get a few job leads.

Notice that I didn’t include “get a job”?  That’s because informational interviews are one of the building blocks of a strong job search networking effort. So you have to have a lot of patience here.

Are you a patient person?

If not, you will lose out on the great potential value.  If impatient and desperate for quick results, you will push away the very person who might help you.
So, I’ll use myself as an example.  Here’s my career bio:

Industry Expertise:

Consumer Packaged Goods, Automotive Accessories, Computer Accessories

Function:

Marketing (Product and Brand Management)

Level:

Vice President

Geography:

Southern California (primarily Orange County)

Company History:

Nestle, Tree Top, Kensington Technology Group, Mauna Loa Macadamias, Meguiar’s Car Wax, Horizon Food Group

So, here are the 5 keys to successful informational interviews.  If you’d like to talk to me about any of the above . . .

COMMUNICATE WELL

Send me a nice note on Linkedin or regular e-mail.  In the note, tell me how you found me (referral, Linkedin, etc). Introduce yourself (and don’t start with “I’m in transition”).  Tell me what your objectives are in wanting to talk.  Have someone else read the note to see if the tone is right.  Positive and thankful vs. desperate and demanding.  🙂  Suggest a few times that will work for you (so I can choose one) and offer to meet me anywhere (my office is often good/easy or a local Starbucks).  Be clear about how much time you need (30 minutes feels right to me).

MIND YOUR P’s and Q’s

Be on time and dress appropriately.  I don’t personally need you in business dress, but it should either match my dress or at least be a nice business casual.  Some may expect you in a suit. Have a resume, but don’t give it to me unless I ask for it.

STICK TO YOUR OBJECTIVES

Re-read your note to me before you arrive and stick to those objectives unless I open up other avenues with you. This is the first risk for you in information interviews.  If you pull a “bait and switch”, I will not feel good about you.  My mindset will change very quickly and, even more important, my interest in helping you will diminish.

DON’T ASK FOR A JOB

Do not, under any circumstances, ask for a job or inquire about possible positions opening in the near future.  This is the second risk and is truly the nuclear option. Because it can destroy the good faith partnership we started.  But, no fear.  You know why?  I already know that you are looking for a job.  So if you follow these guidelines and leave me feeling “appropriately utilized”, I will want to help you find one. It is OK to ask (at the end) if there is anyone else that I think you may benefit from meeting.  Again, assuming that you will follow these same rules.  If you do it right with me then lose your scruples with my network, I will pay the price. And so will you.  If you do meet with a friend of mine based on my recommendation, follow up with me and let me know how it went.  That may prompt a communication about you with my network.  Buzz is good!

SAY THANK YOU

Say a hearty “thank you” and follow up with one (written is nice but an e-mail is OK too). After our introduction, I would also be open to your asking to connect on Linkedin. You can also ask: “how can I help you?”

So, what can you expect after our meeting?

Well, maybe nothing. If you are disappointed then you still don’t get it.

But more than likely, I will think of someone for you to call. I may send you a list of networking groups in your industry. I may tell a recruiter about you (assuming you fit a search).
Think about all of this as learning something important about an industry or company, meeting someone new and, yes, creating some good karma in the work world.
Good things come to those who wait.
Those who push their personal agenda in networking end up, well, waiting.  And wondering what happened.


Written by: Tim Tyrell-Smith
Tags: | | | | | |
Categories: Job Interview Tips | Using Social Media
what where
job title, keywords or company
city, state or zip jobs by job search
  • Tim,
    Agree completely, the bait and switch is a total ‘put-off’ and quite likely to damage your networking efforts not help them.
    In addition to misunderstanding the purpose of informational interviews, another no-no is sending your resume ahead of time or handing it over at the meeting. There’s something about this that implies you’re asking them for a job.
    If you’re using the informational interview to network, I’ve always suggested you use either a Bio or a networking page. The Networking page has your contact information, objective or summary statement and key achievements or skills at the top half of the page, and your list of target companies in the bottom half.
    This is a lot less threatening and lets the other person know who your targeting and how they may be able to help.
    Simon at VirtualJobCoach.com

  • Tim,
    Agree completely, the bait and switch is a total ‘put-off’ and quite likely to damage your networking efforts not help them.
    In addition to misunderstanding the purpose of informational interviews, another no-no is sending your resume ahead of time or handing it over at the meeting. There’s something about this that implies you’re asking them for a job.
    If you’re using the informational interview to network, I’ve always suggested you use either a Bio or a networking page. The Networking page has your contact information, objective or summary statement and key achievements or skills at the top half of the page, and your list of target companies in the bottom half.
    This is a lot less threatening and lets the other person know who your targeting and how they may be able to help.
    Simon at VirtualJobCoach.com

  • Hey Simon and thanks for adding your thoughts here. Good idea to use a networking one sheet at this meeting . . .

  • Hey Simon and thanks for adding your thoughts here. Good idea to use a networking one sheet at this meeting . . .

  • Tim,
    This is an excellent post! Informational Interviews are a great way to get your name and face out there; and is another part of the networking process.

  • Tim,
    This is an excellent post! Informational Interviews are a great way to get your name and face out there; and is another part of the networking process.

  • Ravi Sharma

    Dear Tim,
    Thanks for wonderful advice by spending time to write and help others.
    Best Regards
    Ravi Sharma

  • Thank you, Marleen and Ravi – Maybe this discussion will get more folks on both sides participating . . .

  • Thank you, Marleen and Ravi – Maybe this discussion will get more folks on both sides participating . . .

  • Kirk Nick

    Great article and excellent advice! Thanks!

  • Kirk Nick

    Great article and excellent advice! Thanks!

  • Steve Johnson

    Tim,
    I was just starting a thank you letter for my first informational interview I had yesterday, when I saw your post on this topic…your timing is excellent. It was a good interview with the owner and his top 2 V.P.’s and lasted over an hour. They had my resume and LinkedIn contact info prior to the meeting which led to some good dialogue and questions from them. Although I didn’t ask for a job, the owner stated towards the end of the meeting that they had just downsized and weren’t currently hiring but would forward some “leads” to me today and keep my info on file. I would say the interview was similar to a first meeting with a recruiter who wants to know a little about yourself and what your future plans are. In my case, I received some good advice on what their company looks for when hiring and also, based on my history, their perception on what type of jobs I may be a fit for. I also gave them a “lead” for a potential client. I now have to write that thank you note and track down my new job leads. Thanks for the encouraging and informative website,
    Steve

  • Steve Johnson

    Tim,
    I was just starting a thank you letter for my first informational interview I had yesterday, when I saw your post on this topic…your timing is excellent. It was a good interview with the owner and his top 2 V.P.’s and lasted over an hour. They had my resume and LinkedIn contact info prior to the meeting which led to some good dialogue and questions from them. Although I didn’t ask for a job, the owner stated towards the end of the meeting that they had just downsized and weren’t currently hiring but would forward some “leads” to me today and keep my info on file. I would say the interview was similar to a first meeting with a recruiter who wants to know a little about yourself and what your future plans are. In my case, I received some good advice on what their company looks for when hiring and also, based on my history, their perception on what type of jobs I may be a fit for. I also gave them a “lead” for a potential client. I now have to write that thank you note and track down my new job leads. Thanks for the encouraging and informative website,
    Steve

  • Great post Tim.
    Proper I.I.E. (Informational Interview Etiquette) is critical. Also important to realize that if you screw it up, it’s a lesson learned and hopefully you won’t make the same mistake again. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t handle it properly – you will be more apt to handle the next opportunity more appropriately. This stuff isn’t easy and only practice will help to perfect your style.
    I too have crossed over to the dark side in an informational interview, or even when I’ve met someone and I found out that they work for a targeted company of mine. And it’s no surprise that I never heard back from someone when I’ve mentioned that “I’m in transition”.
    I understand the mistakes I’ve made in both an informational interview and job interview. Those errors in judgment and conversation will no doubt help me to succeed in future situations.
    Thanks for sharing your tips and also for making yourself available to others for potential informational sharing.
    Lauri

  • Great post Tim.
    Proper I.I.E. (Informational Interview Etiquette) is critical. Also important to realize that if you screw it up, it’s a lesson learned and hopefully you won’t make the same mistake again. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t handle it properly – you will be more apt to handle the next opportunity more appropriately. This stuff isn’t easy and only practice will help to perfect your style.
    I too have crossed over to the dark side in an informational interview, or even when I’ve met someone and I found out that they work for a targeted company of mine. And it’s no surprise that I never heard back from someone when I’ve mentioned that “I’m in transition”.
    I understand the mistakes I’ve made in both an informational interview and job interview. Those errors in judgment and conversation will no doubt help me to succeed in future situations.
    Thanks for sharing your tips and also for making yourself available to others for potential informational sharing.
    Lauri

  • Ravi Sharma

    Dear Tim,
    Thanks for wonderful advice by spending time to write and help others.
    Best Regards
    Ravi Sharma

  • Deepinder

    That was a great write-up! I totally associate with it and followed a similar path, contrary to what my career services at B-school used to advice!
    Thumbs up!

  • Deepinder

    That was a great write-up! I totally associate with it and followed a similar path, contrary to what my career services at B-school used to advice!
    Thumbs up!

  • Dan Miller

    Tim, great timely article as I am know fishing in the exploratory waters. What is your suggestion, if the person you are speaking with asks about your current employment situation? Kind regards, Dan Miller

  • Dan Miller

    Tim, great timely article as I am know fishing in the exploratory waters. What is your suggestion, if the person you are speaking with asks about your current employment situation? Kind regards, Dan Miller

  • Dave

    Tim,
    I too think that Informational Interviews are a great tool to use. Though, I have found that with this economy, fewer employers are willing to take this step – maybe because of past experiences.
    Thanks for these points to remember as one can lean towards being a bit too casual given the circumstances of only seeking information.
    Dave

  • Dave

    Tim,
    I too think that Informational Interviews are a great tool to use. Though, I have found that with this economy, fewer employers are willing to take this step – maybe because of past experiences.
    Thanks for these points to remember as one can lean towards being a bit too casual given the circumstances of only seeking information.
    Dave

  • Joan Runnheim Olson

    Great article! I also encourage my clients to utilize informational interviews when they are considering a career change and want to gather information about a specific position and/or industry.

  • Joan Runnheim Olson

    Great article! I also encourage my clients to utilize informational interviews when they are considering a career change and want to gather information about a specific position and/or industry.

  • Appreciate everyone’s comments here.
    The interesting is that this concept is either a lost art or an underutilized gold mine.
    A few have really gained value from using the information interview (Steve’s experience above). Others have chided me for talking about a practice that no one uses or has ever used in his knowledge (from a comment on a Linkedin group).
    What’s the real truth?
    To Dan’s question. If a company asks about your situation, tell them! But do not sound desperate! What’s great about the information interview is that you are there proactively despite the odds that it may turn into nothing. That speaks volumes about you. Certainly answer the question, but do not take advantage and launch into a selfish speech. Give a little and let them keep asking. Be the pursued – not the pursuer!

  • Appreciate everyone’s comments here.
    The interesting is that this concept is either a lost art or an underutilized gold mine.
    A few have really gained value from using the information interview (Steve’s experience above). Others have chided me for talking about a practice that no one uses or has ever used in his knowledge (from a comment on a Linkedin group).
    What’s the real truth?
    To Dan’s question. If a company asks about your situation, tell them! But do not sound desperate! What’s great about the information interview is that you are there proactively despite the odds that it may turn into nothing. That speaks volumes about you. Certainly answer the question, but do not take advantage and launch into a selfish speech. Give a little and let them keep asking. Be the pursued – not the pursuer!

  • Diana

    Awesome Blog. I’m glad I found it through Laguna Niguel Connector’s Discussion area.
    Every new graduate or candidate entering the working world needs to subscribe to this blog. Thanks for putting these tips up for us!
    -Diana

  • Diana

    Awesome Blog. I’m glad I found it through Laguna Niguel Connector’s Discussion area.
    Every new graduate or candidate entering the working world needs to subscribe to this blog. Thanks for putting these tips up for us!
    -Diana

  • Thanks Diana – very glad to have you as a reader!

  • Thanks Diana – very glad to have you as a reader!

  • Gregg Sauer

    I am in the process of using the informational interview as a tool in my job seeking arsenal. I am learning as I go along, listening to speakers about this topic. So far, to a speaker, the point is made to NOT ask for a job and the repercussions of doing so. I’ve held back on using the informational interview until now because this is new to me and I want to be prepared. Had I jumped into this from the start I’m afraid I might have committed the cardinal sin of asking for the job.
    Thank you, Tim, for an excellent article. I have already cut and pasted this into a .doc and will use this as reference material for next week, when I do use the informational interview.

  • Gregg Sauer

    I am in the process of using the informational interview as a tool in my job seeking arsenal. I am learning as I go along, listening to speakers about this topic. So far, to a speaker, the point is made to NOT ask for a job and the repercussions of doing so. I’ve held back on using the informational interview until now because this is new to me and I want to be prepared. Had I jumped into this from the start I’m afraid I might have committed the cardinal sin of asking for the job.
    Thank you, Tim, for an excellent article. I have already cut and pasted this into a .doc and will use this as reference material for next week, when I do use the informational interview.

  • Hey Gregg – Glad this article was helpful. Now that you have this and the info from others . . . enjoy the journey!

  • Hey Gregg – Glad this article was helpful. Now that you have this and the info from others . . . enjoy the journey!

  • One interesting thing I learned from my meeting with a career counselor is that she recommended probably no more than 4 to 5 informational interviews, at least that were relevant to the same topic. First, there’s probably not much you would learn on the ninth or tenth interview you wouldn’t have learned on the fifth, and secondly, word will probably get around about you, and is unlikely to be good.

  • One interesting thing I learned from my meeting with a career counselor is that she recommended probably no more than 4 to 5 informational interviews, at least that were relevant to the same topic. First, there’s probably not much you would learn on the ninth or tenth interview you wouldn’t have learned on the fifth, and secondly, word will probably get around about you, and is unlikely to be good.

  • Ilan

    here is an idea. Is it a good plan to have a bio created on the net and then have a link to it mentioned on your business card?

  • Ilan

    here is an idea. Is it a good plan to have a bio created on the net and then have a link to it mentioned on your business card?

  • @Neil Agree that there can be information overload and there is a risk of inefficiency if you are not getting valuable information out of the effort.
    @Ilan If you look at the Flashcard(TM) download on http://www.spinstrategy.com, I include a link to my Linkedin profile. That works. You can also link to a VisualCV. Both good ideas.

  • @Neil Agree that there can be information overload and there is a risk of inefficiency if you are not getting valuable information out of the effort.
    @Ilan If you look at the Flashcard(TM) download on http://www.spinstrategy.com, I include a link to my Linkedin profile. That works. You can also link to a VisualCV. Both good ideas.

  • Marcel

    Thanks Tim, great article. It helped me a lot to get a better understanding of how to network correctly – especially in the US.
    Since I´m from Germany I am wondering how to get an informal interview with a person from overseas? With this fact in mind, the whole contact is restricted to written conversation which makes it much harder to connect with people because of not being able to meet in person.

  • Marcel

    Thanks Tim, great article. It helped me a lot to get a better understanding of how to network correctly – especially in the US.
    Since I´m from Germany I am wondering how to get an informal interview with a person from overseas? With this fact in mind, the whole contact is restricted to written conversation which makes it much harder to connect with people because of not being able to meet in person.

  • Hi Marcel – Glad this one helped! While e-mail can be tricky, it may your best option. I’ve had some great long e-mail exchanges! I’ve also had some luck with Skype (as long as the other person is hooked up!).

  • Hi Marcel – Glad this one helped! While e-mail can be tricky, it may your best option. I’ve had some great long e-mail exchanges! I’ve also had some luck with Skype (as long as the other person is hooked up!).

  • Tim, Great piece! Thank you so much for sharing this.
    James Snider
    International High Tech Marketing

  • Tim, Great piece! Thank you so much for sharing this.
    James Snider
    International High Tech Marketing

  • No problem, James. Glad you liked it!

  • No problem, James. Glad you liked it!

  • Pingback: Tim Tyrell-Smith()

  • Pingback: Patrick Kavanagh()

  • Pingback: Miriam Salpeter()

  • Pingback: Gina Sian()

  • Pingback: Hannah Morgan()

  • Pingback: Arthur Catalanello()

  • Pingback: Anne Quail()

  • Pingback: Phyllis Mufson()

  • Pingback: Phyllis Mufson()

  • Pingback: Nadine Boonner()

  • Mark Kunkel

    Everyone has talked a lot about what not to do or say in an informational interview. Can you provide some suggestions on how to conduct and informational interview ans what information to ask for and give? Thanks.

    • Hi Mark – Fair point. I will add that topic to my to do list! An you are right, sometimes the content out here is too “Don’t do”.

  • Mark Kunkel

    Everyone has talked a lot about what not to do or say in an informational interview. Can you provide some suggestions on how to conduct and informational interview ans what information to ask for and give? Thanks.

    • Hi Mark – Fair point. I will add that topic to my to do list! An you are right, sometimes the content out here is too “Don’t do”.

  • Pingback: The Best Interview Advice On The Web « ANDYWERGEDAL()

  • Pingback: Tim Tyrell-Smith()

  • Pingback: Ty Abernethy()

  • Pingback: Jfavreau()

  • Pingback: Mary Goldsmith()

  • Pingback: Brad Austin()

  • Pingback: Wise Man Say()

  • Pingback: Debra Feldman()

  • Pingback: Shweta @Careerbright()

  • Pingback: CenturyLinkCareers()

  • Tim,
    Your post is as timely as ever. It’s hard to believe that 40 years after “What Colour is Your Parachute?” job seekers still have trouble with Information Interviews. I recommend that people tuck their short form resumé – ideally a one-page marketing resumé – into the portfolio they are using to take notes in, and produce it only if asked. The reason I suggest they bring only the short one is that the standard long one (2 or more pages looks planned), whereas anyone who is into marketing their services is likely to have  brochures and/or marketing resumé with them for most occasions. The standard resumé is the resumé that is given on request with respect to a specific (and often published) opportunity – and of course you tailor it before sending to the requester. 
    Jennifer

    • Thank you, Jennifer.  Love your approach and agree with it.  Maintain the expected social contract but be ready to adjust if they ask you to – great!

  • Pingback: Tim Tyrell-Smith()

  • Pingback: Jennifer Bulman()

  • Pingback: sam elijah()

  • Pingback: Kelly Donovan, CPRW()

  • Pingback: Jackie Yun()

  • Pingback: 5 Keys to Successful Informational Interviews « 40plus DC Blog | Job Search | Networking Events | Fairs | Seminars()


2008 - 2016 © Tim's Strategy | Privacy Policy