Now that you have identified what jobs you want to go after, it’s time to start your job search and get the job you want! In addition to applying for jobs, you’ll want to start networking with people who work at the companies you want to work for. You can find these people by becoming an expert networker on LinkedIn. So once you actually line up an informational interview with a contact, what’s next? Now’s the fun part – here’s how to rock your informational interview and make a positive impression with your contact.
1. Define your objective – what do you want to learn from this person? Ultimately you are trying to decide if this company (and the position) is a good fit for you. But you only have limited time during your informational interview, so make sure to prioritize what you really want to learn. Is it learning about the culture, the major initiatives the company is undertaking, the people, or the company strategy? What you can learn from the person will also depend on how long they’ve been at the company, how connected they are to the department or function you’re interested in, and how senior they are.
2. Prepare, prepare, prepare! Don’t ask questions you can find the answers to online. Use resources like the company website, their annual report, press releases and major news stories to gain a basic understanding of what the company does, its major products/services, and big initiatives that the company has recently undertaken. You don’t need to come across as an expert on the company, but you shouldn’t be asking your interviewer “what does Acme Corporation do?” And of course, you’ll want to have your elevator pitch perfected, and be able to talk about why you’re interested in learning more about your contact’s employer.
3. Coffee, anyone? Meet in-person with your contact, if possible. This may not always be feasible, for instance, if you’re looking for a job in a different state. But in-person meetings are always better than phone calls, as you’ll be able to establish a personal rapport with your contact. This personal rapport you build can go a long way towards that person wanting to help you further in your job search. Meredith Lepore at Levo League offers valuable advice about how to pick a great meeting spot for networking.
4. Dress appropriately – one level up from how your contact will dress. It’s important to understand the dress code at the company you’re interested in, because many companies are different. If you are meeting a director from a bank or financial services firm, chances are they will be wearing business casual, or possibly even a suit. While if you’re meeting with an acquaintance who works in tech, they are likely wearing jeans and a collared shirt, or even a t-shirt. If you look the part, your contact is more likely to see you as a possible fit at their company. On the flip side, if you don’t look the part, you’ll seem like a mismatch.
5. Show your engagement and excitement in the informational interview. Even if you don’t really know yet if you want to work for this company, you want to come across like you’re really interested. Be a good listener and show your excitement about what your contact is saying about the company and the position. Repeat some of their anecdotes back to them and throw in an example of how your experience would make you a good match. For example – “I’m really excited about how Acme enables their employees to spend 40 hours a year volunteering for charities. I actively volunteer for Habitat for Humanity and Reading to Kids, so a company that prioritizes giving back to the community is important to me.” Be positive, friendly and likable – it’s one of the most important criteria employers evaluate when deciding who to interview hire.
6. Take lots of notes. It’s completely acceptable for you to take notes in an informational interview – in fact, it’s expected. I prefer the old-school professional binder (go for the leather-wrapped ones sold by your university) to take notes with, but you may prefer to take notes on your iPad. Your contact will be giving you lots of valuable information, and you want to make sure you capture it all. After the interview, take a few minutes to go through your notes and organize them while the conversation is fresh in your mind. These notes will help you write a thank you note, and they can also be extremely helpful if you end up interviewing with the company, or even for future informational interviews with other employees of the company.
7. Be mindful and grateful. Your contact is doing you a favor. They have no obligation to help you, but they’re doing it because they like helping other people, and because at some point in their career they were in your shoes. Be mindful of their time – ask them before the interview how much time they have to speak with you, and at some point during the meeting, call out the time and ask them how much time they have left. And of course, be grateful and thankful to your contact – thank them at the beginning of your meeting, at the end of your meeting, and one more time via a thank you email, which you should send that same day. Trish Freshwater wrote an excellent piece on The Value of Thank You in Dan Schawbel’s Student Branding Blog. Tell them that you’d be happy to reciprocate and help them in any way you can, either now or in the future.
As YouTern and Glassdoor point out in Why (and How) Personal Connections Get You Hired, over half of employees find their job through a friend, family member or contact in their social network. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and start setting up informational interviews – you’ll find that if you do it the right way, not only can it help you accelerate your job search, but it can be quite an enjoyable and fulfilling experience.