Informational interviews are a great networking tool when conducted correctly. In our previous posts on networking meetings, we walked you through goal setting, setting up and preparing for informational interviews. Now, how to effectively make the most of your time with your contact.
Informational interviews are much like a regular interview, except you are there to learn and share, not to ask for a job. Conduct yourself in a professional manner as if you were in a job interview.
- Be a professional. Arrive on time. Be comfortable but not sloppy when speaking with the person you’re meeting with. Make sure to thank them for meeting with you. Offer to pick up the tab if you meet for coffee or lunch.
- Take the lead. As you get started, briefly restate why you are there, mention your goals and interests, and then start off with an open ended question to get the conversation flowing. Listen carefully to the responses and take notes. Don’t just run through your list of questions. Listen to the answers and respond to what you are hearing.
- Look for ways to be helpful. One of the most powerful things that can happen in an informational interview is that you end up providing help of some sort to your contact. This happens when you listen, truly understand his or her problems and issues, and have some insights or connections that are useful in addressing them. Don’t force it and make it look like you are trying too hard. But if the opportunity comes up and you truly have value to add, go for it. For example, let’s say your contact says they struggle to find good sales people. If you are in marketing, don’t pitch yourself as a sales person! But perhaps you happen to know of a great sales person. Offer to make that connection and be sure to follow up. Or let’s say your contact says market expansion is a priority right now. If you have legitimate success in that area, you may say “I led a similar effort two years ago and here’s a technique that worked.” Share your expertise if it’s a direct tie to what you are hearing from your contact.
- Watch the clock. Be respectful of the time. Offer to end the interview when the scheduled amount of time has elapsed, unless your contact offers to go over time.
- Seek feedback. If the conversation feels like it is going well, this may be a good time to ask if your contact would feel comfortable reviewing your resume to offer pointers. Or you may ask the person for feedback on the job or field you are pursuing and whether you are on a path that makes sense based on his or her view of the industry. Never lead with these requests. Only make them if the conversation has gone well and the contact has indicated a willingness to help further.
- Request contacts. If the conversation has been positive, you may ask your contact if he or she knows of other people you should talk with. This request is an important part of networking and one of the best ways to widen your network, ultimately leading to job leads. You may simply say “I’ve really appreciated your insights. Are there other people you think I might benefit from talking to? “
- Share your value and your goals. Unless asked, you will not normally lead with who you are and what you are looking for. But it’s desirable if this comes out in the interview. Particularly if the person is a brand new contact, you want him or her to leave with a sense of what you bring to the marketplace and where your skills could be valuable. That way your new contacts can keep their eyes out for you and alert you to potential opportunities.
- Restate action items. Take notes on any follow up you or your contact agrees to and restate them at the end. If your contact indicated that there might be an opportunity available for you, inquire about the best way to follow up on this. If they did not mention any opportunities, ask if you can keep in contact with them along with the best way to do this.
- Thank them again. Your interviewee took time out of the day to meet with you; be sure to show your gratitude.
Informational interviews can seem tricky and even a little awkward at first. However, with a little preparation, they can be very informative, rewarding, and a lot of fun! Next, following up with your contact to maintain an ongoing relationship.