Informational interviews might have the word "interview" included in the title, but as you walk into one, don’t expect to walk out with a job. Sure, this is a chance to sow the seeds for the future and to develop relationships that can lead to a job -- but the point here is to gain information. That information could help you in numerous ways in the future. You might get tips about how you can improve your candidacy or what you need to do to actually land a job -- or the interviewer might even be impressed enough to refer you to a colleague who’s hiring. Even better, the interviewer will keep you on the list of prospective hires in the future.
While you don’t have to be quite as nervous for this information-gathering interview, you still need to prepare carefully in order to make the most of this experience.
1. Assess the interviewer's motivations
IIf someone grants you an informational interview, they’ll typically fall into two categories, suggests communication coach David Parnell in an article on the Forbes website.
With the first type, the interviewer is doing it as a favor to someone else, such as co-worker with whom you have a personal connection, for example. With that type of situation, you should still put your best foot forward and seek to impress. But also focus on gathering as much information as you can about the company and other people within it, who might be able to help you land a job, says Parnell.
The second type of interviewee is the one you contacted yourself, perhaps through a cold call or email. If that person agreed to allow you to come in for an informational interview, there’s a better chance that she’s looking for someone to hire either now or later, says Parnell, and that means your first priority should be to impress her.
2. Research where you can fit in
Even if it’s not a formal job interview, you need to prepare for this informational interview as if it were the real deal. Research the company’s core values, its current projects and its key players on its website, on LinkedIn, and in news reports. Based on that research, look for ways you can make a valuable contribution to the company’s goals.
If you’re a marketing expert with skills in social media, for example, take notice of how the company is handling its social sites, and come armed with ideas about how you can add value. The interviewer might not ask you many direct questions about how you could contribute to his company -- but you still might have a chance to talk about your skill set and how it could benefit the company.
3. Treat it as seriously as any other interview
It should go without saying, but here it is: Act like this is the real thing. Arrive at the interview dressed in your best work attire, and carefully groomed. Also arrive on time, and be friendly with anyone with whom you come into contact. Even though you’re not necessarily being considered for an open position, this is still your chance to make a good first impression.
4. Prepare key questions
During the interview you’ll likely have a chance to share some information about your skills and background and to ask questions about the company. Good questions include asking about what makes a good candidate for the company, what advice the interviewer would have for someone starting out, or what it’s like to work at the company. Don’t come right out and ask for a job. Instead, work on presenting yourself in the most impressive way possible, so that the interviewer feels compelled to help you more in the future.
5. Get a referral too!
It’s what happens after the interview that is perhaps the most important part of this process, so your effort should also be in developing new contacts through this interview. In the best-case scenario, the interviewer will offer to refer you to someone else in the industry who may be hiring for a position for which you’re qualified -- but if not, ask. Inquire what your next steps should be, for example. If you’re feeling bold, ask the person to give you the names of other people you can talk to, in order to gain more knowledge.
6. Keep in touch
As you leave, ask for the interviewer’s business card, so you have her full contact information. Then send her a thank-you note that expresses your appreciation for the opportunity to meet with her. A few months down the road, send her another email, reminding her of who you are and that you’re still looking for a position. If anything has changed at the company and she’s now looking for a new hire, she may get back in touch.
With proper preparation for this informational interview, you could be well on your way toward a new job.
Have you ever used an informational interview to get a new job? Your thoughts and comments below please...