So you’ve figured out who you want to speak with to move forward in your job search, and you’re getting ready for an informational interview.
What would make this conversation a success?
Some people mistakenly think informational interviews are informal and all about relationship-building. But the real opportunity in an informational interview is to convince someone to become your advocate, by getting you an interview or another introduction in the right direction.
A 2016 survey revealed that 85% of jobs are found via networking, and experts tend to agree that only 30% of all jobs are posted online. Master the informational interview, and this can become the key to landing your next gig.
Here's how to convince someone you’re worthy of a little effort and a little risk, by making sure they leave your conversation thinking:
- “He knows what he wants.”
- “He came prepared with reasonable expectations.”
- “I know exactly how to help him.”
- “I want to help him.”
1. How to get your interviewer to think: “He knows what he wants.”
Often times informational interviews feel so informal that people overshare their internal struggles about what they think they want to do. But the last thing you want is come off scattered or non-committal (save it for your career coach).
Your interviewer only needs to know the narrative of your interest aligning with what she knows or does. Once you’ve connected the dots on how your goals align with her experience, it becomes clear to her that you’ve reached out to her for the right reason; the help-line becomes open for business.
Here’s some language we’ve seen work consistently:
- My career interests have always revolved around _____________ [the issue, industry or type of company that aligns your interest with her experience].
- I’m determining my next opportunity to contribute to this space, ideally in _____________ [specific role, company, or skill set].
- Based on your experience in _____________ [your interviewer’s relevant experience], I know I could learn a lot from you.
- I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to pick your brain on a few specific questions and get your candid advice on how to move forward in my search.
2. How to get your interviewer to think: “He came prepared with reasonable expectations.”
Come ready to speak knowledgeably and humbly about the gap between you and your goal and what you’ve done already to bridge that gap.
Your interviewer should not be schooling you on the credentials required for a certain position, or enlightening you that you’re really stretching for that CMO job at 26. Show her you’ve done your research, that you have already done everything in your power to work towards this opportunity (or have a concrete plan to do so), and that support and guidance from someone like her is needed for you to move forward.
Here’s some language we’ve seen work consistently:
- I know I could do this job and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get there.
- To-date, I have _____________ [your experience, skills and passions that make you qualified/on the right track].
- I’ve learned that in order to get this job, I need to _____________ [your qualification or network needs].
- I’m hoping you can share your candid advice on _____________ [suggestions: alternative ways I could work to improve my candidacy; other organizations I should be speaking with; current industry priorities that may drive new job opportunities, etc.]”
3. How to get your interviewer to think: “I know exactly how to help him.”
The most critical requirement of an informational interview is to clearly state what your interviewer can do to help you move forward -- and make it easy for her to do it. She’ll be that much more likely to trust you’re a safe bet and say “yes” to your request.
If you’re going for the introduction:
- I would greatly appreciate an introduction to _____________ [name and position of individual you want to meet].
- Based on what I’ve shared today, would you feel comfortable making that introduction? I would be happy to send you a draft email to forward to make it easy for you.”
If you’re going for the interview:
- Given what I’ve learned from you today, I’m even more confident about my interest in working with your team and finding an opportunity to contribute to your organization.
- I would be grateful for any support you can offer as I apply. I can send you a draft email to forward to the hiring manager, or send you the information required to submit my name via a referral?
- Please let me know what you might be able to do. I’d like to make it easy for you.
4. How to get your interviewer to think: “I want to help him.”
We all know how it feels to leave a conversation wishing it had never happened. And that’s the last thing you want your interviewer to feel upon hanging up the phone. She’ll be less likely to advocate for you, and she might even ruin your chances with others.
If you’ve woven gratitude, humility, and good prep into your conversation along the way, you’re almost there. Here are some additional ways to make sure your conversation is as positive as possible:
- Make it convenient: You may think you’re being generous by offering to buy the person a cup of coffee, but they’ll appreciate even more the 40 minutes you save them by turning your hour long coffee into a 20-minute call or visit to their office. And make sure to start and end on time - being respectful of someone’s gift of time is critically important.
- Don’t criticize: your last manager, today’s traffic, how long your job search is taking, and current life challenges are off limits until your interviewer knows you well enough to put them into perspective
- Get specific in your appreciation: Tell your interviewer what specifically you admire about her career. Be sure to recap what you learned during the call and how that will impact your next steps.
- Share air time: A good informational interview should have you talking between 30-40% of the time, and your interviewer 60-70% of the time.
Put all of these strategies into action and you will dramatically increase the likelihood that someone will like you and help you get where you want to go.