An informational interview is different from a regular job interview in many ways. Typically, recruiters won’t reach out to you when the company is not actively looking to hire. That’s why you should be the one to initiate it. Informational interviews are usually more casual and laid back. It can be a lunch or a coffee break. Perhaps an after work happy hour at a local bar. Sometimes they are held in the company building.
There are many reasons why setting up informational interviews is a great strategy for job seekers. First of all, it lets you get to know more about a company culture and see if it is a good fit for you. You will gain greater knowledge and understanding about a company by talking to someone who works there directly rather than by doing an online search. Second, it is a great way to build a relationship with someone who works within a company. That person could become a referral for you when the right job opportunity opens up within the company. Finally, this is a great way to build visibility as they will be evaluating you as well, to see if you are a good fit for the company.
How Do You Set Up Informational Interviews?
As I mentioned it earlier, it is your responsibility to set up and initiate informational interviews. The best way to reach out to people is through your network. If you don’t know anyone, start attending networking events to meet people. You can always try reaching out to strangers via LinkedIn. However, similar to cold calling, this method is not very effective as most people are reluctant to have coffee with strangers.
If you know someone within a company or have someone who can introduce you to the right people, that’s a different story. When I graduated from college and was on the hunt for my first industry job. One of my instructors introduced me to several of her colleagues. When I drove to Los Angeles all the way from San Francisco, I was able to tour 5 major studios. Each person showed me around, introduced me to their co-workers, described the company culture in detail and some even fed me lunch. I was lucky. But I have to say, it happened to me because I was proactive and willing to go out of my way to make this happen.
A Few More Suggestions About Informational Interviews.
Show up prepared as if you were going to an actual interview. You never know what to expect. I actually had one or two people report back to me that their informational interview felt more like a grilling job interview with all the tough questions.
Informational interviews are typically more casual, but don’t let your guard down completely. Remember, they are still evaluating you as a potential fit for the company. It is best to stay alert and pay attention to cues.
It also matters who you have informational interview with. You don’t have to meet with the company president unless you are going for a senior executive role. Ideally, someone in management or a role slightly above yours would be best. But then, of course, sometimes the only choice we have is to meet with the one who says yes.
And finally, don’t get discouraged if after having multiple informational interviews you still don’t have the job of your dreams right away. This is a long-term process and it takes time to build the momentum. Once you have it though, you will discover that it was worth all your efforts.
Katherine Bouglai is a career transition coach and the founder of Blossom Career. She works with professionals in technology who want to discover their passion in life and build careers of their dreams. Her specialties include career change, resume development, job search strategies, job interview preparations, offer negotiations and other related skills.