It is one of the best ways to expand your professional network, there’s no limit to how often you can do it, and it’s free. If you haven’t gone on an informational interview lately, why not set one up today? This time tested tactic will help you land your next job, take your career to the next level, and get new clients.

An informational interview is an exploratory discussion by phone or in person. It can give you an insider’s view into various career paths, organizations, and industries while enabling you to build new relationships. It is also an effective way to reach out to people you don’t necessarily know – for example, through introductions and LinkedIn requests – which can lead to valuable advice and connections. You can go on informational interviews anytime, whether or not you’re employed. After all, it can never hurt to think about your next steps.

A recent example is a senior manager in my circle we’ll call Daniel Cooper whose position was about to be eliminated. Since he had a great relationship with his boss, Cooper asked her for networking introductions. She readily offered connections to several of her colleagues. Cooper requested an informational interview with one of them. They hit it off instantly and she recommended him for two possible positions in her organization. Within two weeks Cooper had an offer for a position that was a much better fit for him.

Many of my clients and colleagues across diverse occupations and fields have landed jobs thanks to the connections they made during informational interviews. Personally, all of the jobs I landed during my 12 years on Wall Street stemmed from networking, and informational interviews were often the springboard. It’s fine to scour job boards and talk to recruiters. However, informational interviews offer you an endless pipeline of possibilities – opening doors for you that you may not have known existed.

For some, the prospect of any kind of interview feels daunting. However, if you’re an introvert you’re particularly well suited to one-on-one interactions versus large-group networking events. You can go to each meeting prepared so you’ll be more confident, having researched the organization and the person you’re meeting with in advance. You can also use your listening skills to take in everything during the meeting, share your expertise, and follow through with a well-crafted thank-you note or e-mail. When you and the other party hit it off, of course, stay in touch so she will keep you in mind when she hears of an opportunity for you.

In case you haven’t gone on – or granted – an informational interview lately, consider these guidelines to get you started:

Whom to ask. Reach out to anyone in your network – by e-mail, on social networking sites such as LinkedIn, by phone, or in person. If there’s someone you’d like to meet, it’s most effective to ask a friend or colleague you know in common to make the introduction. However, you can also reach out to someone you haven’t met. It helps if you’re members of the same professional organization, alumni of the same school, or volunteers at the same organization. However, you can also reach out to someone you’ve read about in a trade publication or a professor whose research you’ve admired.

How to ask. Send a quick note requesting a 20-30 minute discussion by phone or in person. Be open about your search and say you’d like to meet to request advice and/or introductions. Make it as convenient for the other party as possible; and if you’re meeting for coffee or lunch, pick up the bill.

What to do in advance. A day or two before your informational interview, e-mail a few questions to the other party and suggest that these could be a point of departure for your discussion. This shows that you’re serious and respectful of his time. Gathering your thoughts in advance also plays to your strengths as an introvert.

Get grounded. Let’s say you’ve been out of work for a long time. You need a job badly but you don’t want to appear desperate. It’s important to be crystal clear about your strengths and accomplishments rather than rely on outside validation. If your informational interview is in person, arrive early and do something to get grounded. That could entail ducking into the rest room and taking a few deep breaths. Once you’re in the meeting, focus on building rapport with the other party rather than worrying how he’s judging you. And remember to keep breathing!

How to conduct the meeting. Confirm the purpose of the meeting and check to see if the other party still has 20-30 minutes for this discussion. You’ve probably heard that it’s not appropriate to actually ask for a job on an informational interview. Yet a job is what you’re after. The idea is to be transparent about your job search without putting the other party on the spot by directly asking for a job. Your role during the meeting is to present yourself and your qualifications with confidence, listen, learn, ask great questions, and build rapport.

Show your appreciation. When someone takes time from her busy day to grant you an informational interview, she is probably doing so as a favor to the person who introduced the two of you or she may be doing it in the spirit of paying it forward. Express your gratitude for her time and attention to your search.

Follow up. Beyond sending a thank-you note within 24 hours, periodically stay in touch with the other party and keep him posted on your search. If someone introduced the two of you, send her a thank-you note too – doing so by e-mail is usually fine.

Look for ways to pay back. Many candidates have told me they can’t possibly offer anything of value to the interviewer. Here’s another way to think about that. Find out what matters to the other party. You don’t have to pay him back right away. When the time is right, share information, insights, an invitation, or an introduction that would be valuable to him.

For more about informational interviews, check out some of my favorite stories on the topic: “10 Ways to Make the Most of an Informational Interview” (I’m interviewed in this) by Caroline M.L. Potter; “My Pet Peeves About Informational Interviews” and “Mastering the Informational Interview” by Marci Alboher. In my book, Self-Promotion for Introverts®, you’ll find sample text for both an e-mail requesting an informational interview and a thank-you note to follow up.

If you have other ideas or personal experiences you’d like to share about informational interviews, I welcome your comments below.

Copyright © 2011 Nancy Ancowitz



2 thoughts on “Expand Your Network and Land Your Dream Job”

  1. Hi Nancy,

    Wonderful writing as ever!

    I love the ‘ways to pay back’ angle.

    My experience is that this really works, especially if your reconnect later on through an invite, a link to an interesting article or a simple ‘thank you’.

    Show that the person who’s helped you is on your mind well after the fact; it’s powerful stuff if it’s authentic.

    Thanks for sharing!

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