As we explored in the article detailing The Hiring Manager’s Story, candidates for open positions are selected most often because they have successfully created a professional relationship that resulted in a referral. Hiring is hard work for managers and therefore most recruitment decisions are based on recommendations from trusted colleagues and other industry connections.
While the majority of applicants apply through the website, most of the time successful job seekers have conducted extensive outreach with individuals, often other Longwood alumni, that are employed at the organizations they want to work, such that the process of applying is more of a formality. Successful candidates almost always have an inside connection -- a referral -- for positions when they become available.
That’s why “Informational Interviews” are absolutely critical to developing a referral strategy. By conducting Informational Interviews -- different from a job interview -- job seekers are able to plant the seeds for a referral in the future. However, the first goal in the process of obtaining a referral at some point down the road is to establish new professional connections by conducting outreach with individuals that share the same professional passions, work in a desired organization or field, and by making a great first impression. Beyond existing personal connections like friends, parents, neighbors, and former bosses, Longwood alumni are a great place to start when building a network of professional connections.
So, what exactly is an informational interview? An informational interview is typically a short, 15-30 minute conversation over the phone or a meet-up over coffee. In an informational interview, the roles are reversed from a typical job interview when the hiring manager asks all or most of the questions. During informational interviews, it is up to the job seeker to ask great questions that showcase advanced preparation, knowledge of the company, industry, and yes, the career path of the person they’re speaking to.
It’s important to keep the goal in mind that informational interviews are part of a longer term strategy. Connections that are made via informational interviews, as well as the knowledge imparted and additional connections provided, are the cornerstone of being able to successfully secure professional opportunities when they arise.
To get the most out Informational Interviews, preparation and follow-up are just as important as what happens in the moment.
Prior to the interview:
- Learn about her company by visiting the organization's website and take notes:
- What is the mission and/or services they provide? What do they make or sell?
- How does the company make the world a better place?
- What can be established as to the strengths of the company in the market or industry that it operates?
- Next, review and make note of the work history and engagement patterns of the person being interviewed on LinkedIn (and Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram if those are available).
- How do they present their professional self? What’s notable about their career path?
- What are they sharing on LinkedIn and what groups are they participants or volunteers
- What additional education and/or credentials have they received?
- Have they won any awards?
- Prepare for the interview by choosing 8-10 questions to ask.
- Questions should span a range of professional topics and should include questions about how they got into the field, what they look for in a colleague or employee, things that you should be doing now to help build your skills, and what their days and weeks look like in this field.
- Important: The last question that’s asked in every informational interview, should be to ask who else they might be able to connect you to-- make sure you use the opportunity to build more connections and networking.
A list of potential questions is given below if you would like further ideas
During the Interview:
- Plan on a 20-30 minute interview, with at least 15-minutes of buffer time at the end in case it runs long.
- Make sure to introduce yourself first -- tell them about yourself, your professional background, your career goals, and why you are contacting them. And give them the opportunity to share the same information with you!
- Next, begin asking your prepared questions in a professional tone making sure to take notes and listen thoroughly so you can ask follow-up questions when appropriate.
- Be sure to conduct informational interviews in a distraction free environment
- Allow them time to think and respond to your questions. Sometimes there are pauses in conversation that can feel awkward but are just part of the process.
After the interview:
- Send a Thank-You email, and mention 2-3 things they said that were particularly helpful to them.
- Connect with them on LinkedIn and continue to engage with them in a professional space.
- Seek out the people whose names they gave as potential additional contact-- connect on LinkedIn and see if they would be interested in talking with you.
Additional Potential Informational Interview Questions
- What are your main responsibilities as a...?
- What is a typical day (or week) like for you?
- How does your position fit within the organization/career field/industry?
- How does your job affect your general lifestyle?
- What current issues and trends in the field should I know about/be aware of?
- What are some common career paths in this field?
- What kinds of accomplishments tend to be valued and rewarded in this field?
- What related fields do you think I should consider looking into?
- How did you begin your career?
- How do most people get into this field? What are common entry-level jobs?
- What steps would you recommend I take to prepare to enter this field?
- How relevant to your work is your undergraduate major?
- What kind of education, training, or background does your job require?
- What skills, abilities, and personal attributes are essential to success in your job/this field?
- What is the profile of the person most recently hired at my level?
- What are the most effective strategies for seeking a position in this field?
- Can you recommend trade journals, magazines or professional associations which would be helpful for my professional development?
- What advice would you give someone who is considering this type of job (or field)?
- Can you suggest anyone else I could contact for additional information?