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All hail the Informational Interview - Nail the art of asking

Posted: 16 April 2014

Knowledge is power. Social channels and new techs come and go but raw information and the power it yields ain't going anywhere. In a time where most things seem disposable or fleeting, the search for good quality knowledge can be neglected. Unfortunately the insatiable need for content and data has somewhat diluted the promise and status of real information - knowledge that truly takes us from one place to another.

But all is not lost. Candidates and career seekers still believe in the weight of real insight.

The informational interview is a nod to the reinstatement of good old fashioned communication. Candidates and professionals alike are open, receptive and enriched by this form of active networking and self-fuelled learning. If the search, planning and execution of your interview is spot on then great things await you.

Ask and you may well receive

An informational interview is not an advertised opportunity. If you want to connect, chat and learn from the folk inside your ideal industries or careers there’s no choice but to go get ‘em.

It’s easy to be defeatist in your mission, you’re asking for time and that is often in short supply. That said, there are hoards of professionals out there that are ready and willing to share their wisdom and even point you in the right direction.

Who - The search

Being selective in who you reach out to will determine your success. We would all like to bend the ear of the biggest and best but are they really the people you’d learn the most from?

CEOs and founders may be at the top of the table but they don’t always reflect their business or company. Marketing departments, team leaders and frontline staff all have a different story to tell, path to success and grasp on their chosen industry. Use LinkedIn to sniff out potential sources, follow them on Twitter to uncover some familiar ground and create a rooted not flattery-riddled email that is both personal and focused.

What - The Qs

The mere action of asking for help will get a positive response if done well. If you do nab that interview, you need to be ready and armed with intelligent questions. Don’t waste time with information you could scope out through their social channels or website bio, go deeper and challenge their knowledge too.

  • What changes do they see their industry experiencing in the next decade?
  • What career path did they take?
  • What publications or resources do they read and use?
  • What is their daily working life like?

The Do’s - Be a pro

An informational interview is still an interview. This opportunity is your first step in presenting yourself, actively networking and tapping some insider knowledge. As with any professional encounter, you need to be well-presented, prepared and politely persistent.

Research

Know your stuff before you meet. Websites, company news and industry resources can all inspire questions and conversation pointers. If you do no digging prior to your meeting, you will be rumbled.

Prepare

Although this isn’t the time to go in all recruitment guns blazing, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have your elevator pitch rehearsed. Asking and listening is the aim of the game but be ready to answer questions too. Why are you interested in a particular role or industry? What are your next steps? What do you do now to further your career? Don’t think you can bluff it.

Follow up

Start with a thank you and end with an update. Your follow up doesn’t need to be a one email affair, a simple thanks 48 hours later will kick things off. Why not send along a link to that blog you mentioned during your interview, reach out and connect on LinkedIn or even offer to write their company a post on your recent encounter.

Don’t treat this interview as a ploy to bag that dream job. It’s a killer mistake many career hunters make. Your informational interview is not the time or place for the ‘big sell’ - this is your chance to learn. Asking for time is a talent in itself, and your first test in bagging that face-to-face time. Turning a cold email into more than an annoyance is tricky, you need to be clear, personal and mindful of the info you’re on the search for. That starts with the right people and the right questions.

Questions, feedback or just keen to chat about this? Then I’d love to connect with you. Find me on LinkedIn, Google+ , Facebook, or drop me a quick tweet @markbevans