March 29, 2011
How to conduct a successful informational interview
I was talking to a third-year pharmacy student attending the American Pharmacists Association Annual Meeting and Exposition this weekend on strategies to maximize conferences and networking events. She asked me about informational interviews: Are they still a good practice today and if so, what would I recommend?
What is an informational interview?
As the name implies, informational interviews are meetings where someone is gathering information from someone through an interview format. A professional sits down with a prospective employer and asks questions to learn more about the company or industry.
While new graduates are the ideal demographic for these sittings, current professionals-in-transition or professionals looking to investigate new career opportunities or industry change can leverage these as well.
Can I get a job this way?
While informational meetings are typically used for information-gathering only, successful meetings can turn into second meetings or formal interviews.
What's the best way to conduct a successful informational interview?
There are three key ingredients: Research, Rapport and Strategic Questions.
Research. The best informational interviews happen when the candidates have done their homework. Good homework in this case would include learning as much as possible about the company's products and services, its competitors, recent announcements (through press-releases or media coverage), financials (if public), organizational structure and third-party reviews.
Having this research completed shows that you're knowledgeable, intelligent and truly interested in the company. It also enables you to ask better questions that aren't easily answered by a simple Google search.
Rapport. People enjoy talking to people with similar interests. To go one step further, people hire people they like and trust. If you're using this tool hoping to take your meeting to the next level, you want to appear similar to the person you're talking to. You can do this by mimicking body language (posture, gestures, facial expressions, breathing) and tone of voice (volume, pitch, speed). Another great way to build rapport is to focus the conversation on the other person: Find out what's most important to him or her, and tailor your questions and interests to match that person's interests as much as possible.
Strategic Questions. Strategic questions allow you to drive the conversation in the direction that would be most suitable for your objectives. If you just want to be liked, you could talk about mutual interests in riding bikes and vacationing in Hawaii. However, if you want a potential job with this company, you would want to learn about the challenges the company is facing that you might be able to solve, or about objectives they're trying to achieve for which you might have ideas.
Questions such as the following can dramatically help your informational interview:
"What are your greatest challenges that you're facing right now?"
"How long have these been a challenge and what's been the impact to the organization so far?"
"What are your top objectives in the next six months, year and three years?"
"Who are your ideal candidates, and what would make them successful in your organization?"
These questions give you insight into possible presentations you can make to position yourself as an ideal candidate. Be cautious, however, that you don't offer solutions if you don't feel fully prepared. A second meeting with a great mini-presentation is more effective than just winging it.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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