Informational interviews mean talking with someone about what they do and/or what their company does.
The goal: To learn more about a specific career path by getting your questions answered.
What is the Purpose of Informational Meetings?
An informational interview (aka “networking”) is simply having conversations with people. As a job seeker, networking becomes defined as looking for a job. It is absolutely more than this. Are people really willing to take time to speak with you about this? It depends. There has to be a good reason or they have to see value in investing time meeting with someone.
A classic sales term is WIIFM. “What is in it for me”. What will someone get in return? When you are asking for an informational meeting, what is in it for them? How will they benefit from talking to you about what they do? These are some of the reasons someone would be willing to talk to you:
- A boost to their ego
- Makes them feel like they have done something helpful
- It is a payback or favor to a friend
- Sourcing for future hiring needs
How to Ask for an Informational Meeting
How you ask for the meeting is key. Using the right language/words/tone of voice makes all the difference in securing the meeting. You can request an informational meeting either in person, through email or by phone.
It doesn’t matter how you ask the person for the meeting. What does matter is mentioning the name of the person who referred you (recommended you speak to them) early in your message. Mentioning a referral source, someone you both know, makes it feel less risky. Keep in mind, a little honest flattery is helpful.
“I was speaking with Sarah Doe and she highly recommended that I speak with you about _______________ (occupation or company name). Sarah says you are extremely knowledgeable and would be helpful in my quest for information in this area.”
State the Purpose of Your Meeting
Once you’ve proven you’re not a dangerous stalker, you can clarify what information you are looking for. (You are not looking for a job…yet. You are trying to see if your skills and experience will fit into that organization.)
“I would enjoy meeting with you to discuss what you feel are the most valuable assets of people in your field.” or
“Based on your tenure in the field of [industry/occupation], I was hoping to learn from you some of the day-to-day challenges you face and how you stay current?”
Be Prepared to Handle Objections
Sometimes the response you get isn’t really a rejection. Be prepared to handle any of these responses:
- I’m really busy
- I’m not the right person
- If you are looking for a job, talk to HR
- We aren’t hiring right now
None of these responses really mean no. They just mean “not right now.” So don’t give up.
How to Respond to an Objection
If they say they are busy, ask when they will have more time to meet either before or after work.
They are the right person because you were referred to them. Reinforce that their experience in the organization makes them exactly the right person. They understand how the organization works and that’s important.
If they direct you to talk to HR or say that their company isn’t hiring, then your request probably included the fact that you are looking for a job. Move forward and say something like:
“While I am exploring new opportunities, I’m more interested in learning about your organization and your experience working for them. Would you have just 30 minutes to meet?”
If you receive an answer other than yes, it means that the person doesn’t feel like it is “safe” or worth their time. Flattery will get you everywhere, try feeding them some. Also, remind them of who referred you. A little bit of guilt can be a wonderful source of leverage.
Is There a Hidden Agenda?
Honestly, there isn’t a hidden agenda. Your purpose for the meeting is to gather information. You do not know yet whether you would want to work for that organization. That’s why you want a meeting… to learn more!
Your conversation may or may not lead to your wanting anything more from them.
And you never know. You may find you have things in common with the person you meet with and this conversation could result in a new friendship.
Confirming Informational Meetings
When you do land a meeting, remember to verify the time and location and send a reminder the day before. And provide the person with your mobile phone number just in case.
The Format of Informational Meetings
You have asked for the meeting so you determine the agenda. Arrive early and be prepared! Here is the agenda for an informational meeting and more tips to make your networking meetings more successful.
Always Send a Thank You Message
After informational interviews, you should always send a thank you message. Email or regular mail is fine. What you say in your message is more important.
Here’s what to include:
- Thank them for their time
- Explain why what you learned was helpful
- State what your next steps will be (the take-away from the meeting)
- Set the expectation you will follow up
You should also follow up with the person who referred you to let them know how the conversation went.
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About the Author: Hannah Morgan is a career sherpa, guiding new job seekers through the treacherous terrain of job search. If you are looking for no-nonsense advice, check out her site Career Sherpa. And follow Hannah on Twitter for the latest job search news and trends!