Career Resume Consulting | Informational Interviewing
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Informational Interviewing

Asking the Right Questions

Informational interviewing is key to expanding your existing network. You don’t need to take someone out to lunch or spend two hours in a coffee shop with small talk in order to build a connection. You can gain a contact in as little as 10 or 15 minutes with a brief informational phone interview.

The purpose of an informational interview, or any networking conversation really, is to let someone know that you are looking for a new challenge in your career. The more people that know that you are looking for a position, the faster you will find a job.

A quick informational interview can not only gain you insight into a new industry or a new company, but it expands your network. By having short conversations with key people within your target companies, you can get an inside track into an open position, even without knowing the contacts beforehand.

The informational interviewing process is actually pretty simple. Use the LinkedIn advanced search feature to find someone within your target organization. Then call the main company number and ask to be connected with that person. When they answer the phone or when you receive their voicemail simply say,

“I was doing some research on your company, and I realized that if I wanted to learn about your company and your industry, that you were the one that I needed to talk to. Do you have 10 or 15 minutes to answer a few questions?”

If they aren’t available at that time, see if you can schedule a brief conversation with them within the next few days. Then, have a list of 3 to 5 questions to ask them about their company and their industry. Some examples are below.

Many times it’s better not to call a person who may be your hiring manager. But instead, talk to someone else within that department – or better yet, someone on the sales team. You’ll find that anyone in sales is more than happy to talk to you at length about their company because you are one of the few people who actually want to listen to what they have to say. In fact, you can find out all kinds of dirt about a company and their industry by talking to the salespeople, and they can become your best allies.

Keep in mind though, that at no point in the conversation do you ask them if they could take a look at your resume or “pass it along to someone.” Don’t even ask them if there are any positions available within the company. This is strictly an informational interview, and you don’t want them to feel used.

Also remember to respect their time, and if you ask them for only 10 or 15 minutes, then at the 10 minute mark, try to wrap things up.

When probing for information from someone you don’t know well, keep your questions broad. For example, ask about the industry. In general, such inquiries are less apt to make the person wonder whether you are “fishing” for a position right then and there.

If you requested a meeting for information and try to turn it into a job interview, it will look like you got through the door on false pretenses.

Naturally, you want to know about trends in any business you might work in. So, questions like the ones that follow are suitable to ask of people whom you have only just met. They can facilitate the kind of shop talk shared at a trade conference. Here are some sample questions you might consider asking during the informational interview for general information that might help you in your career with that company or in the industry as a whole:

  • What are some important long-term trends affecting your industry?
  • With those trends in mind, what skills and expertise are companies apt to be looking for in new people?
  • What are some good sources of additional information—either articles and manuals, or people to talk to?
  • Do you know of any recruiters active in the industry?
  • What are the fastest growing areas of the business?
  • Who is your competition in town? Nationwide?
  • In this business, which career areas are in the greatest demand?

When your contact is interested enough to focus on your career needs, a different set of questions is appropriate.

The following are questions that are also appropriate to use with a mentor, close associate or friend, or, in some happy instances, a new acquaintance that is willing to help a lot.

  • From what you know of my career up to now, what would be the logical next step?
  • I have been thinking of (a specific position name) and wondered what your reaction would be.
  • Do my qualifications contain any gaps that I should expand on?
  • From what you know of me, is there anything that could give me a competitive advantage?
  • Could you refer me to any other people who know about these positions?

If your questions have shown an inquiring attitude, these follow up interview questions can seem natural to a friend, acquaintance or even a stranger.

Important point: The last question you should ask them during the informational interviewing process is, “who do you know that I should be talking to?”

The goal of the conversation is not only to introduce yourself, but to also get another name so that you can have another conversation with someone else who may be able to help you in your job search.

Whenever you do get a name, whether from an informational interview or any other networking conversation, be sure to follow up with that person quickly and use the opportunity as a warm lead. In other words, start the conversation with,

“I was talking with Steve a couple of days ago and he recommended that I give you a call.”

As anyone in sales can tell you, a warm lead is much better than a cold sales call.

Land your next six figure job in weeks, not months.

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