Empowering Job Seekers

Get connected with informal meetings

Starting the networking process

You will never walk away from an informational interview empty-handed.

Every informational interview educates your guest on things they never knew about you – thus bringing you one more step closer to re-employment by their being impressed with you and now their desire to help you.

Since informational interviews are easy "wins" for most job hunters, we believe these meetings are more than worth the time and energy you put into them. After all, you can't make too many friends in the working world or garner too many champions / mentors.

If your job search feels "stuck," you never have to sit back and wait for the phone to ring. You always have the option of arranging an informational interview and talking to another professional that can give you new insights and perspective – and new job leads.

While informational interviews can typically account for a good percent of your working time while you're seeking re-employment, there's no "right" number of informational interviews for every job seeker. Some people garner all the benefits they seek after just three or four meetings. Others will need to continue the networking process over a period of months by conducting dozens of informational interviews.

Even if you know only a handful of potential business contacts at the outset, don't worry; it only takes two or three good informational interviews to propel you into the networking process. Contacts beget contacts. In fact, most people find that as they move closer to a job offer, the informational interviewing process speeds up. They find themselves meeting with a greater number of decision-makers in a shorter time frame because, suddenly, they're "in the loop." And that, in a nutshell, is what informational interviews are all about.

The world is filled with professionals who remember how hard it was to get a foot in the door at their companies or to establish a career in their industries. Such people are often especially amenable to the idea of supporting others in their re-employment efforts. And nearly every professional feels flattered and inclined to help when job seekers turn to him or her for advice – but NEVER to be asked directly for money or for a job.

Of course, busy professionals don't always have the time to meet with everybody who requests an informational interview. Most working people grant informational interviews first - and often exclusively - to job seekers who they know or who are referred to them by mutual acquaintances.

How to Begin

Choose successful and highly regarded people in your church or community for your informational interview candidates.

We suggest you select people who know you well and whom you can trust. You're likely to feel awkward and fumble your way through your first round of informational interviews, and it's easiest - and safest - to make your mistakes early on in the process with people who will be empathetic and provide helpful, positive feedback. Once you've polished your informational interviewing skills, there's no limit to how extensive your network can become.

Landing an Informational Interview

Although it's generally possible to garner an informational interview once you have a referral, you still have to do the legwork. You should be able to set up informational interviews with your primary contacts easily enough - perhaps all you'll have to do is pick up the phone and request a face-to-face meeting.

However, once your network extends beyond people who already know you, and you're soliciting "secondary contacts," you'll have to switch to a more formal approach: the written pitch and verbal follow-up combination. Your written pitch should include a cover letter that lets the reader know exactly who referred you to them and that you'll be calling to set up an informational interview.

Important Timing Tips

Some days are better than others for contacting people up by telephone. In our experience:

  • Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are the best days of the week for making follow-up calls.
  • Monday is OK, but it tends to be a tough day to reach people because many of them are in 
meetings or struggling to get back into the workday routine.
  • Tuesday is typically the heaviest mail days.
  • On Friday, people are usually in a rush to wind up their work so they can begin their weekends. 
On the other hand, Friday’s tend to be more relaxed and thus a good time to call, depending 
on the office environment.
  • Wednesday and Thursday tend to be the most business-as-usual days of the week, and thus 
good days for phone calls. 
The most important timing technique you have at your disposal is to follow up by phone or email exactly when you said you stated or agreed. Even if you don't get the contact to come to the phone on your first try, you have demonstrated your reliability and increased your chances of a positive response. 
When They Don't Respond 
If you don't hear back soon from the potential contact after you've called for the first time, don't despair. He or she might be out of town or overwhelmed by work. Your phone message (or perhaps your original letter) may have been misplaced or garbled, so go about your business and call again at a later time.

Setting up a Meeting

When you finally engage your contact on the phone, your goal is to arrange an in-person meeting. Reiterate the promise that you made in your cover letter: you'll only need twenty minutes of the person's time. Still, that's a big chunk of time out of someone's day, so be sensitive to the potential contact's needs. If he or she is particularly busy, suggest that you meet before or after business hours. 80 to 90 percent of informational interviews are conducted either during lunch, or before and after business hours.

There's only one point on which you shouldn't waiver; you want to conduct the informational interview in person rather than by phone.
  • First of all, you want to observe your contact so you can communicate effectively. What someone says and what his or her body language tells you may be two different things.
  • Secondly, an informational interview is in a sense a dress rehearsal for a job interview. You'll want your networking contact's feedback on how well you present yourself during the meeting and you can only get that feedback from an in-person meeting.
  • This is your time to shine and impress with your personality and sharing of skill sets. If done well, you will invite questions from them. Being asked a question(s) is always a great sign you have their attention or they are impressed enough to go forward in learning more of you. 

At the Meeting

Although the dynamics of an informational interview are different than a job interview, there are many basic rules that apply to both.

  • Be on time (which actually means be ten or fifteen minutes early) and dress formally, as though you were trying to convince someone to hire you.
  • Come prepared with a notebook and pen, and have handy your own copy of the questions you mailed in advance to your contact. 
Your primary goal in an informational interview is to establish a rapport with the other person, and to make a friend who will want you to succeed in your job search. You also want a decision-maker's perspective on how you fit into the "big picture." 
Be willing to listen to and learn from what the professional has to say, even if it isn't what you had hoped to hear. Use the questions you've brought with you to launch your conversation. These might include:
  • How did you get started in your job / position / industry?
  • What do you like best and least about the industry?
  • In your mind, what qualifications are required to be successful in your industry?
  • What do you feel are my skills strengths and weaknesses? 
No matter how carefully you've fashioned your questions, you'll want to "go with the flow" to some extent. If your contact goes off on a tangent because one of your questions especially interests him or her, enjoy the opportunity to travel down the new path and glean the additional information. Every informational interview is unique, and you can maximize the potential of each by staying receptive to the contact's interests and conversational preferences. 
Remember, too, that you might have some information that would be valuable to your contact. Although you're there to learn from your interviewer, you may have the opportunity to share valuable information with your interviewer. Take advantage of it.

Saying Goodbye

If you've established a rapport with your interviewer and kept the conversation flowing, time will pass quickly. So keep an eye on the clock, and always let the contact know when twenty minutes are about to expire. We have found that often the conversation is just getting started after twenty minutes. The contact might invite you to stay a bit longer. If twenty minutes is all the time you allowed then that should still be long enough to ask your questions and accomplish your two final goals.

  • Your first goal is to establish rapport and ask for feedback on your presentation.
  • Your second goal is to express your skills and what types of job you feel qualified to excel.
  • Your third goal is to walk away with the names of professionals that the interviewer feels 
comfortable referring you to for additional informational interviews – or job interviews. 
If your interviewer is undecided about whom they should refer to you, ask whether you can check back with them in a few days for their thoughts. 
Remember the Golden Rules of Informational Interviews:
  • NEVER ask them for a job.
  • If you prepared and thus impressed, you will come away with either an offer to come in for an 
interview in their company, or they will refer you to people they know that can possibly use 
your skills.

Follow Through

As soon as possible after your meeting, jot down notes that will help you 
remember what you've discussed. That night, write them a short thank-you note. 

Next >