Mastering the Informational Interview
Five thousand six hundred forty-seven was the number of applications I had submitted online, or at least that is how many it felt like. Fresh out of college and ready to start my career, I was in a new city and felt like I was banging my head against the wall searching for a job. Surely my spray and pray application method would pay off eventually, right? I did have a college degree after all. After several months of job searching without much traction, I stumbled upon the silver bullet of the job search: the informational interview. Whether you are just starting your career, like I was, are considering a new field, or are just seeking out a job, the informational interview is a great step to succeeding in your search.
1. Define Your Reason
My strategy for conducting the informational interview was four-fold. First, have a compelling reason for meeting with the person you contact. I was a recent college graduate who had just moved to the area and was interested in learning more about the local nonprofit sector. Your situation may be different than mine, but that does not mean you do not have a unique reason as to why someone should sit down with you. Maybe you are interested in learning more about a specific field or want to find out what it takes to be in your new contact’s position. Whatever it is, do not make it about the fact that you are job searching. Let that fact come out naturally. Mentioning it before you even sit down will tie the person’s hands and make it tough to get appointments with people.
2. Keep it Short
Only ask for 15 to 20 minutes of their time and keep that promise during the meeting. If the meeting goes longer, make sure it is on their terms and not because you forgot to keep an eye on the clock. People are busy, so asking for only 15 to 20 minutes of their time makes it more manageable for them and more likely that they will meet with you.
3. Ask Questions About Them
Do not make it about yourself. You are there to find out more about them, their background, and the field they are in. Listening is an excellent skill to develop; it communicates that you are genuinely interested in the person across from you. Plus, most people love to talk about themselves. Your ability to ask the right questions and actually listen to the answers will speak volumes about yourself without saying a word.
4. Keep the Ball Rolling
Finally, do not get out of that chair until the person you are meeting with has given you two to three more people with which to meet. In order to keep the ball rolling, you need to continually meet new people. In addition, with their permission, you can use their name as your compelling reason for meeting with your next contact, saying, “I recently met with John to learn more about the field, and he recommended I meet with you. Can I have 15 to 20 minutes of your time this week?”
Conducting informational interviews will expand your network and help you to learn about the community and industry you are pursuing. Not to mention getting out and meeting new people will boost your morale tremendously after sitting on the couch endlessly churning out applications to no avail. But how does it help you find a job? The people you meet with will have a pulse on the local job market and will likely know of openings in the field. If not, they will know somebody who does. Even though your meetings are not about the fact that you are job searching, it will likely come up organically. Even if it does not, you can reach out to your contacts later if you see they are connected to a position you are interested in for a reference or advice on your application.
If you are stuck in your job search, connect with people through the informational interview. Consider it a useful tool to add to your toolbox of job search skills. In my experience, limited as it may be, landing the right job really is all about who you know. The informational interview is a great way to quickly expand your network and gain some traction in what can be a difficult and discouraging job search.
Chris Burke is a proud Indiana University alumni and nonprofit professional at Christian HELP, an organization in central Florida devoted to preventing homelessness by helping the unemployed find jobs. He can be contacted at ChrisB@christianhelp.org.