Informational interviews are an often ignored aspect of the job search. For unemployed individuals, college seniors, and disgruntled employees, the stress of the job search makes something like an informational interview, which often does not result in a job offer, seem like a waste of time. But, from personal experience, I can tell you that the informational interview completely resurrected my career.
While I discussed the idea of an informational interview with MadameNoire for a story titled, The One Job Hunting Trick You’ve Been Neglecting, there is much more to this unique aspect of the job search. Here’s what you need to know:
In 2008, I left my job as a newspaper reporter to enter the world of public affairs. It was a contract position, and that contract was running out during the fiscal crisis that plagued us in 2009 and beyond. While I had performed well in my new position, I knew that there was no full-time offer waiting for me at the end, and I was scared.
I had to face some tough decisions. I was going into a highly competitive job market with only six months of public relations experience under my belt. Should I have gone running back to journalism, a profession that was already facing an uncertain future before the economy tanked, or have bided my time while collecting unemployment, to see if someone saw value in my limited, but successful run in PR? I decided on the latter and faced a tremendous amount of stress as I embarked on my job search.
Fortunately, during my final days in my contract position, I worked on a project with Vault.com to help the increasing number of unemployed New Yorkers learn the career skills needed to get back on their feet. I always thought it was some kind of cruel joke that I was placed on this assignment, but it paid off in a big way. The person working on Vault’s public relations took a liking to me and expressed an interest in helping me, as my contract expired.
I thought I was going to work for her on a freelance basis (which I ended up doing several years later), but she had other plans. She asked me to develop my own asking price for freelance assignments and guided me as I made decisions based on the fact that I would not be getting health insurance and other perks available to full-time staff. And then she offered me an opportunity to meet with a number of executives at such companies as Edelman, McGraw Hill, and Madison Square Garden. These were informational interviews, and she made sure I knew ahead of time that I probably wasn’t going to walk away from them with a job.
Informational Interviews are Not Job Interviews. Instead, an informational interview is an opportunity for a job seeker to pick the brain of an executive who may be able to offer insight into how to fix a résumé, gain experience, or reach out to certain people to advance one’s career. The interviewer knows what it takes to get hired and can take one look at your résumé and tell you what needs to be done to beat out other candidates for a job. Keep that in mind before thinking an informational interview is a waste of time.
With that said, there are three tips I can provide for how to act in an informational interview:
- Treat it Like a Job Interview: It isn’t a job interview, but the executive is taking the time to meet with you and is probably doing someone a favor. Don’t insult the interviewer or your connection by treating it like a joke. Wear a suit. Act professional.
- Bring Multiple Copies of Your Résumé: While this is not a job interview, an informational interview can open the door for you should a position become available and the person you meet with likes your attitude and finds your skills impressive. The person may ask for a copy or two of your résumé, and if you don’t bring one, you will look unprepared. This may cause you to lose out on a future opportunity.
- Always Follow Up: Get a business card and reach out to the executive after the interview to express your thanks once more for taking the time to meet with you. Then, reach out to the person again during the holidays, just to wish them well, briefly update them on your situation, and keep your name in their mind just in case something has opened up since the last time you spoke. After each interview you go on, you should also follow up with your connection, not only to thank them for setting up the interview, but also to discuss the interview, find out if there was any feedback, and provide updates on your job search.
Informational Interviews Help You Learn from Experience. You don’t always meet with executives during the job interview. You may meet with an HR recruiter, your potential supervisor, and a few other key players. Yet one time, an informational interview put me right in front of a vice president. An executive at a company is more likely to talk to you when there is no obligation to hire you. It allows the executive to impart knowledge and possibly even mentor you, while providing you with a notable opportunity to learn more about a career track and what it takes to be noticed in your chosen profession.
Informational Interviews are Great Practice. Knowing you aren’t interviewing for a particular job is helpful. It allows you to practice your job interview skills in a less stressful setting. You can become comfortable talking to decision makers. And you get the opportunity to receive feedback on how to tailor your résumé for a specific position. So, while you may not get a job from an informational interview, it will help you prepare for real job interviews and leave you with a better chance of getting an offer then.
I, personally, didn’t get a job from the informational interviews, but I acquired a great deal of knowledge talking to these individuals. They shared their own career history about how they advanced from one position to the next, before explaining how I could do the same. It was at one of these informational interviews that I learned to quantify my experience, so the person reading my résumé could truly tell how much of an impact my efforts had made on the company as a whole. That simple piece of advice helped my résumé stand out.
And an informational interview did eventually lead me to receive a job offer. After completing my series of meetings, I received an opportunity to meet with people at Vault.com about a potential job working with my connection on a short-term public relations project. I immediately got the job — the interview was just a formality. My connection spoke highly of me, which was all Vault needed to hear. After this contract ended, I received a full-time offer and was able to get back on my feet, advance my career in public relations, and move on to other jobs at different organizations.
So, whether you have a job or are currently looking for one, don’t sleep on informational interviews. You can set them up in a variety of ways. You can reach out to people directly and request one, or you can reach out to someone with contacts who might be able to set you up with people he or she feels might help you with your career. But it’s up to you to make the most of the experience. Don’t waste it.
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