Even when a company isn’t hiring, the informational interview can still be a great opportunity for candidates to create meaningful relationships within target organizations. LinkedIn is a great tool for finding connections within your network through which to request these informational discussions. The key to using informational interviews effectively in a job search is advance preparation.
Informational interviews are, by nature, informal. It’s a nice touch to offer to meet outside the office and buy a cup of coffee or lunch for the decision maker who is giving you his or her time. As a job seeker you should not make the mistake of thinking that this more informal meeting requires any less preparation than a formal job interview.
Their purpose is twofold- the first, as the name implies, is to gather more information about a company that you are interested in working for. The second, far more subtle, purpose, is to create a connection that will allow you to showcase your value to an organization in a less traditional setting. Thus, preparation is key. It’s critical to research the organization, and indeed the individual, that you desire to meet; ideally before requesting their time, so that you are prepared to clearly and knowledgeably exchange information during what is likely to be a brief meeting.
Preparing an agenda for the interview shows the manager that you respect the time they have allotted for you and that you have a clear focus. The questions that you ask should reflect that you have done research on the challenges currently facing the organization and that you have an understanding of what you can contribute to solutions. Never ask a question during an interview- any interview- that you could have answered with a Google search ahead of time. This level of preparation, respect, focus, and interest in the needs of the organization will ensure that you create an outstanding impression.
An informational interview should never be an obvious plea for a job. If conducted properly, the interview will focus completely upon the organization, and the manager you’re speaking with. If you do proper research beforehand and ask the right questions, you will come away with some great new information. Your opportunity to shine even further will be in the follow up. Of course, you should always express your gratitude for the opportunity to meet, and send a note of thanks.
It is through proper follow-up that an informational interview’s value for both participants becomes apparent. Once you have gathered your information, what you do with it creates your opportunity. Use the knowledge you gained to do still more research on the company, industry, and competitors. Then you can follow up with and reach out to the manager by summarizing relevant articles, presenting solutions that you have formulated, and any relevant research that may be of value to them. This type of continuous follow up creates an impression of you as a self-motivated, forward thinking problem solver, and when you are on target with your observations and suggestions, you will have established yourself as a resource they will value.
When they do have or hear of an opening or a vacancy that you can fill, you will be positioned properly to seize the opportunity. Keep in mind that even if the informational interview doesn’t lead to a more formal interview and then job offer, at the very least you will have extended your network, increased your visibility, helped develop your personal brand, and expanded your knowledge base.
An informational interview is always a winning opportunity with the right level of preparation and execution.
Brent Peterson is the founder of Interview Angel (www.interviewangel.com), the most comprehensive guide to executing near flawless job interviews.
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