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.
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.
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.
Some days are better than others for contacting people up by telephone. In our experience:
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.
Although the dynamics of an informational interview are different than a job interview, there are many basic rules that apply to both.
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.
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.