Whether you’re a recent grad exploring career paths or you’re looking to switch positions in your current field, informational interviews are one of the best tools you have in your job search arsenal. You’ll add useful contacts to your network, get valuable information about the companies you’re after, and learn more about the path you think you want to pursue.
And, while an informational interview is never the time to ask for a job, it is a way to show interest, talk about your goals, and get face time with people who make hiring decisions—all of which will be key if a position does open up.
So, though it’s not a formal interview, you should always consider it as part of the formal interview process—suiting up and all. Follow these tips, and you’ll ensure you use your informational interview to its fullest potential. Plus, you’ll leave a great impression.
1. Do Your Research
While the purpose of an informational interview is for you to get more information, you should still do your research on the company and industry before you get there. You certainly don’t have to be an expert, but the more you know ahead of time, the more intelligent questions you’ll be able to ask, and the more interested and capable you’ll look.
Check out the company’s website and online news room, as well as industry publications. Also find out as much information about the person you’re meeting with as possible—check her out on LinkedIn, and do a quick Google search to get the basics. Don’t waste time asking “what did you do before this?” if the answer is clearly outlined in her company bio—instead, save your in-person time to ask more in-depth questions.
2. Mind Your Manners
Real interview or not, rolling up 10 minutes late in your Converse isn’t going to impress anyone, so keep interview etiquette in mind for informational interviews as well. Arrive to your appointment 10-15 minutes early, dress in appropriate business attire, and turn your cell phone off! When you meet your interviewer, make eye contact, smile, introduce yourself, offer a firm handshake (both when you enter and exit), and don’t sit until you’re invited.
3. Be Prepared
Just like you would for a real interview, set aside plenty of time to prepare for the meeting. You should have, in-hand, a list of all the questions you’d like to ask about the person’s position, company, and background.
Also be prepared for the interviewer to ask some things about you, too—namely, who you are, what you want to do, and why you want to work in her field or for her company. Before you get there, have an intelligent, well-thought-out elevator pitch, and be sure you’re able to articulate your goals.
4. Bring Your Resume
Don’t be caught off guard if your informational interviewee asks you interview-like questions—you should always be prepared to share your skill set, capabilities, and accomplishments if you’re asked. Better yet, bring your resume. You never know when someone might ask for it, or, you can offer to leave it at the interview to be kept on file for future consideration.
5. Follow Up
Thank the person for taking time to meet with you—both verbally and with a thank you note 24 to 48 hours later. And if your interviewer asked you to apply for a job, send in your resume, or provide any other information, do it right away, while you’re still fresh in her mind.
And follow-up doesn’t end there. Assuming the interview went well, this person is now part of your network. Invite her to connect on LinkedIn, send her an article you think she might find interesting, and—most importantly—let her know once you’ve landed a position. Even if you don’t end up working for her company now, she may be a valuable resource down the line.