How to Use Informational Interviews to Get Your Dream Job
November 2, 2017
When I started searching for a job at the beginning of the summer, I had two problems:
One, I almost never got an interview–without a good reference to get me in the door, I was overlooked in the piles of other applicants’ resumes.
And two, when I did get an interview, I often found myself holding back (for good reason) from asking a pressing concern of mine: “Would I even like this job, if you were to hire me?”
Now, I know that you’d roll your eyes if I wasted your valuable time explaining to you all the many reasons networking is important. Plus, I’ve covered that already.
Instead, I’m going to tell you exactly what to ask when you set up an informational interview with someone. Why am I an expert on this? I’m not… but I have had upwards of 80 informational interviews within the last 3 months, both on the phone and in person, and with all that unemployment time, I had plenty of opportunities to refine and perfect my list of questions (after all that beach-time, of course).
Six questions to ask in an informational interview:
1. Can you start by explaining to me what initially attracted you to this industry?
2. What, in your opinion, is the best part of the industry?
3. What is one downside to it?
4. What does a typical day for you look like?
5. As someone interested in _____(I usually say writing, but you could say event planning or sales or anything you want… obviously slightly relevant to the company of the person you’re speaking with), what advice do you have for me as I try to break into the industry?
6. Right now, I’m interested in pursuing _______ (I say copywriting). However, now that I’ve told you a little bit about my interests, are there any other positions you think I should check out in the industry?
Some additional advice: When preparing for an interview, know your own story. Know how to give an elevator-pitch about your background, and what you’re hoping to get out of the informational interview.
For example, I usually say this: I graduated a year ago with a degree in English; I spent the last year teaching English in Thailand, and I blogged for the Teach Abroad company while I was there. I realized I loved doing this, so now I’m looking for a job with opportunities to write, but I’m not quite sure what that looks like yet. I wanted to meet with you to get your insights on the Advertising/Tech/Publishing industry, and to get an idea of what it would be like to be a copywriter in the industry.
Don’t tell them the last seventeen internships you’ve had and how you were an honor student in high school. Be as brief as possible, and highlight early on why you’ve set up this conversation and what you’d like to get out of it. They can always ask follow-up questions.
When the interview is over, thank them for their time and do not say, “Are you hiring?” or anything related to employment.
That comes next.
Here’s How to Follow Up:
After the phone call or coffee date, you want to follow up with an appropriate thank-you note. My advice? If at all possible, handwrite it. You’ll stand out. Just think about it: How many emails do you get a day? How many cards do you get in the mail?
But if mail is difficult, or if your relationship with the person is casual-enough for an email, that’s fine, too. Here’s what you can say:
Of course, I understand this will look different for everyone. But the concept is the same:
1. Thank them for their time;
2. Remind them specifically what kind of advice they gave, and how you’re going to use their advice, to show you were listening (tip: write down during or immediately after the interview what they said, so you don’t forget later);
3. If it feels appropriate, end with a request for future information about employment opportunities.
**Only follow step 3 if it feels natural, in relation to your conversation, and if you’d genuinely like to work at the company.
And regardless of whether Company A is currently hiring, don’t let this be the end of it (unless you want it to be). Check back in a few months on their Careers page. See an opening? Let Craig, or whoever, know that you’ve taken their advice (i.e. “I’ve been building my portfolio…”), and that you’re interested in hearing more about this position… Either ask them to put you in touch with someone, or even candidly ask, “From what you know about me from our informational interview, do you think this position would be a good fit?”
It’s likely that, following your conversation, the person will feel comfortable referring you, or steering you in the right direction if they don’t believe you’re a good fit… They took time out of their day to speak with you once, and they don’t want that to have been wasted time, either.
Need more career advice? Check out our other posts.