Getting a job offer is a true process, often the result of several weeks or months of searches, applications, phone screenings, interviews, and negotiations. While the process can be wearying, you can help it by increasing your visibility and leveraging your LinkedIn profile to elevate you above other applicants. One way to do this is to set up informational interviews to build your network and industry knowledge.
As explained in The Hiring Manager's Story, successful candidates often have someone inside the company to put their name in the hat for positions when they become available.
That's why an "informational interview" is absolutely critical to developing a referral strategy. By conducting informational interviews—different from a job interview—job seekers can 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 make 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 may ask all 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 the career path of the person they're speaking to.
It's important to keep in mind that informational interviews are part of a longer-term strategy. Connections 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 of an informational interview, preparation and follow-up are just as important as what happens during the interview.
Prior to the interview:
- Learn about their 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 company's strengths in the market or industry that it operates?
- Next, review and note 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 involved in
- 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 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 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 primary 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?