Informational interviews use your network to prospect for leads and opportunities. If you want a job interview, you should understand the informational interview and how to initiate it and use it effectively. Gathering information in this way opens the doors to opportunities while minimizing rejections and competition.
Practicing the 5 Rs Principle
The guiding principle behind prospecting, networking, and informational interviews is this: the best way to get a job is to ask for job information, advice and referrals, not to ask for a job. You want your prospects to engage in the 5 Rs of informational interviewing:
Reveal useful information and advice.
Refer you to others.
Read your resume.
Revise your resume.
Remember you for future reference.
Approaching Key People
The people you should approach for an informational interview are those who are busy, who have the power to hire, and who are knowledgeable about the organization.
The best way to initiate a contact with a prospective employer is to send an approach letter or email and follow it up with a phone call. An approach letter example can be found here on Corporate Gray Online under Additional Resources. This letter should include the following elements:
1. Opening: If it’s a referral, explain that you are considering a career in _____ and their name was given to you as a good person to give you useful information. If it’s not a referral but a “cold call” contact, you can begin by stating that you are aware they’ve been at the forefront of _____ business (or whatever is both truthful and appropriate for the situation). A subtle form of flattery is helpful at this stage.
2. Request: Mention that you know they are busy, but you hope to schedule a mutually convenient time for a brief meeting to discuss your questions and career plans. Most people will be flattered and happy to talk with you about their work.
3. Closing: State that you will call them to see if an appointment can be arranged. Be specific by stating the time and day you will call. Take the initiative to follow up the letter with a contact time.
4. Enclosure: Do NOT enclose your resume with this approach letter. You should take your resume to the interview and present it as a topic of discussion near the end of your meeting. Sending it with the approach letter communicates a contradictory message. Remember your purpose for this interview is to gather information and advice, not ask for a job.
Conducting the Informational Interview
While you are ostensibly seeking information and advice, treat these meetings as important preliminary interviews. You need to communicate your qualifications – that you are competent, intelligent, honest, and likable, just as you would in a formal job interview.
However, an informational interview is relatively unstructured. Since you want the individual to advise you, reverse the roles and become the interviewer. Begin by stating your appreciation for the individual’s time and reiterate your purpose as was stated in your approach letter.
Conduct the interview with a sequence of open-ended questions requiring the individual to give specific answers based on their experiences. Focus on “how” and “what” questions centering on specific jobs and the job search process. Begin by asking about various aspects of specific jobs:
– Duties and responsibilities
– Knowledge, skills, and abilities required
– Work environment relating to fellow employees, work flows, deadlines, stress, initiative
– Advancement opportunities and outlook
– Salary ranges
Your next line of questioning should focus on your job search activities. You want as much information as possible on how to:
– Acquire the necessary skills
– Best find a job in this field
– Overcome any objections employers may have to you
– Uncover job vacancies which may not be advertised and develop job leads
– Approach prospective employers
Your final line of questioning should focus on your resume. You want to receive useful advice on how to strengthen both the content and use of your resume. Plus, asking questions about your resume force the individual to read it which, in turn, may be remembered for future reference. Do not show your resume until you address this last set of questions:
– Is this an appropriate type of resume for the jobs am targeting?
– If an employer received this resume, how do you think he or she would react to it?
– What do you see as possible weaknesses or areas that need to be improved?
– What should I do with this resume?
– How might I improve the form and content of the resume?
Your last question is especially important in this interview. You want to be both remembered and referred. Ask a variation of the following question:
Do you know two or three other people who could help me with my job search?
End the interview by requesting that should they hear of any job opportunities for someone with your qualifications, they could feel free to pass your name on to them.
Be sure to send a thank you letter or email after completing this informational interview. Express your gratitude, reiterate your interests, and ask to be remembered and referred to others.
Follow up on any useful advice you receive, particularly referrals. Approach referrals in the same manner you approached the person who gave you the referral. After conducting several of these informational interviews, you should be well on your way to taking part in formal job interviews.
The Military to Civilian Transition Guide by Carl S. Savino and Ronald L. Krannich