Thinking Strategically About Your Network: The Informational Interview (Part I)

Informational interviews have been a hot topic as of late, with many posts providing great tips and advice to ensure success. For such a widely discussed tool, it is surprising how few people actually request informational interviews. After having several discussions on the topic, I have a few theories about why this is the case, the first being that there is often a limited view of what an informational interview is, or can be.

As I see it, there are three primary purposes for conducting an informational interview:

1) Learning more about a new organization or field of work

2) Understanding yours and others’ roles when you start at a new organization

3) Seeking to move up within your current organization

In a series of posts, I will discuss how to approach each of these types of informational interviews, beginning with finding out about a new organization or field of work.

1) Learning more about a new organization or field of work

When you hear about informational interviews, this is generally what people are referring to. It’s my personal opinion that this is typically thought of as a euphemism for desperately trying to get a job, and may be the reason that so few people take advantage of them.

While an informational interview may get your foot in the door and could even result in a job with that organization, there are other significant benefits to conducting interviews.

These are just a few of the potential benefits from conducting an informational interview:

  • Getting an honest perspective on a career path you are interested in pursuing
  • Learning about agencies that may work with the organization where you are hired
  • Hearing about career paths to a position you aspire to reach
  • Expanding your professional network and meeting new contacts

Let’s face it, we all like to talk about ourselves – your interview subject will most likely be flattered that you want to speak with them. That being said, make sure you have a clear idea what you are hoping to find out before you begin. With that in mind, here are some tips to keep in mind.

Step 1: Choosing your interviewee

When deciding whom you would like to interview, the best piece of advice I have received is to focus on people who are second connections. The Vice President of (pick your organization) is not necessarily the best person to speak to; even if you are able to set up an interview, they most likely will not have much time to speak, and you may not get a good idea of what individuals within the organization are doing.

Picking a mid-level employee at the organization will often result in a more candid conversation about working for that agency. Also, they may have more insight into navigating your way through an organization, and are closer to the hiring process.

Step 2: Contacting for a Meeting

If you are sticking to second connections, if possible, have your mutual acquaintance put you in touch. If you are reaching out to the person directly, be sure to explain who you are, why you want to speak with them, and specifically what you are hoping to speak with them about.

Note of caution: If reaching out to a person directly, be careful about using LinkedIn to connect. Some people absolutely love it, while others exclusively use it to connect with people they have met previously in person. Check out their network – if they do not have many connections, it is probably not the best way to contact them.

Step 3: Preparing for the Interview

The message is in the title: make sure that you have prepared for the interview. Make sure to research your subject and find out about their background. Based on what you learn, prepare several questions beforehand. While you will likely think of more specific questions during the interview based on your conversation, it never hurts to have several fallback ideas.

Step 4: Follow Up

It’s been said before, but it is worth repeating: send a thank you note. A handwritten note really stands out from other, more generic communications (like an email).

Through making a connection with your interviewee, all of their contacts are new second connections for you. If you have made a great first impression with them, they may be more willing to introduce you to a colleague or connection of theirs.

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