In the second part of my series on informational interviews (see part one), we focus on the questioning. Remember, you are not directly applying for jobs in this type of meeting, instead simply spending time connecting with someone in your chosen field. Like all good networking, it should be fun and not loaded with an outcome.
You manage the agenda! Therefore you need a discussion framework to get your target to open up systematically. People enjoy talking about themselves and are usually more willing to talk than listen. Frame them as an expert. You don’t have to sell, just establish a relationship.
Likability trumps knowledge.
If you establish rapport with trusted individuals, multiple eyes and ears will be looking out for you in the job market. Just imagine, a fleet of advocates helping promote you.
You can make yourself more likeable without being a natural salesperson, just by being genuinely curious! You get insider knowledge, types of people, types of problems, types of projects in your area of interest.
The biggest mistake job seekers make in the informational interview process is thinking that the conversation is about themselves, when it is really about the contact.
Format for the Informational Interview
1) Small talk: Easy chat like “How’s your day going so far?” Talk about your mutual contact or something you’ve seen in the press about their company. You can temperature gauge whether they are “all business” today or how open they might be to an open conversation about directly helping you. Follow the energy. If your contact is warming up then stay on the topic. If not, move onto the next topic.
2) Q&A, as per the graphic. This information gives you another level of insight once you get to a proper interview.
3) Networks. Who do they think you should speak and indeed, could they introduce you?
Let’s go to the Q & A. Having an agenda is vital to show you respect their time and take their expertise seriously. Really, this script is durable for any conversation! I am using the TiARA format which is brilliant for this type of meeting, coined by Steve Dalton in his fantastic “Two Hour Job Search”. Let’s go!
The answers you get will help you build your mental toolbox of what it will be like working in your contact’s field or organisation.
It is now time to ask for contacts and if you can keep a dialog open with them.
• Would you be willing to put me in touch with people who might be helpful to learn more about this industry? Can I email you tomorrow…(follow up)”
• Would you mind looking at my CV if I forwarded it?
• Can I follow up from time-to-time with further questions?
If the contact suggests to send your CV in (Informational Interview Joy!)
• Who is the person to whom I address my cover letter?
• May I use your name when I contact them?
Informational Interview Follow-up
Send a thank–you as soon as you can. Don’t let their efforts go unsung. Pop a regular reminder in your calendar to contact them, thank them for any suggested people that they suggested you speak to. You should tell them how their advice is benefiting you and ask for more advice! For example, you might want to ask about the possibility of flexible working or remote working. They might have advice on how to navigate this.
Steve Dalton talks about the Ben Franklin effect (see the video). Keep letting them know you are out there.