Interview Tactic Employers Hate
I had never heard of an "informational interview" until I went through a job search workshop. The idea sounded great, though. The facilitator made sure we understood we were not to go in and ask if there were any jobs for us, but that we were to get information about the company, division, industry, key people, etc.
In short, it was an interview where we gathered information that could help us understand the market and needs better. Sometimes the premise of getting the informational interview would be to figure out if we would really be interested in a major career change (to a different industry, for example). It really was about collecting information, not asking for a job.
However, it seems that the only people who ask for "informational interviews" are job seekers who just happen to have a copy of their résumé handy, and the discussion they want to have uncannily goes into the "do you have a job for me" area.
They are giving a bad name to people who ask for an informational interview. I think the first step is to not ask for an informational interview. Here are some ways to get more value out of this must-do job search task:
1. Ask for a short phone call or meeting, or even a lunch
The purpose of the meeting or call is to learn more about the industry, or the company, or the needs of the company. The request might look like this: "Hi Jane, I am looking for information to understand your company better and learn how it fits into the industry. I'm doing some research on this industry and would like to get your ideas. Do you have time this week or next week for a short phone call?"
Instead of asking for the informational interview, ask for a meeting. Isn't that a common request these days?
2. Be prepared with good questions
Since you are the one asking for the meeting, you should be prepared with good questions that show you are really doing the research. Don't ask yes/no questions, you want the person you are interviewing to give you information, so develop a list of good open-ended questions. "What do you think," "Why is," and questions like that encourage the person you are interviewing to open up and share what they know.
3. Remain completely engaged in the discussion
This is not a radio interview where you have a list of 10 questions and you go through each one without dialog. Make sure you clarify, drill down, ask questions that aren't on the list, and acknowledge their responses. You aren't a reporter, you are doing research. If you are engaged in dialog you'll let them know you are serious about the information they are sharing. If you don't you'll come across as uninterested, which won't do much for your relationship.
4. Respect your time slot
If you ask for 15 minutes then take 15 minutes, no more. Many people schedule the time in a calendar might have other appointments right after yours. It can be disrespectful to go over the time allotted, so make sure you show respect and gratitude by not abusing the time they said they'd give you. Come prepared and keep the meeting moving so you talk about everything you need to talk about.
5. Ask who else you should contact
Whomever you are talking with will have relevant industry or company contacts that you probably want to talk with also. Hopefully, toward the end of the interview you will have made a positive impression and the person you were talking with will feel comfortable introducing you to their contacts. ASK FOR IT! You might say, "Are there other people at your company I you could introduce me to as I learn more about this?" Or, "Is there someone else in the industry you can introduce me to so I can learn more?" I like to ask for introductions, not just e-mail addresses or phone numbers.
Have you had success with these types of interviews? Tell us how in the comments.