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5 Keys To Successful Informational Interviews

I wrote a post recently in which I suggested that an elite class of employed folks wasn’t doing its solemn duty.  The duty?  To play a proactive and positive role to support the effort of job seekers.  Are you a member of the employed elite?

After I wrote that post, I received a very important reminder from a networking friend. While my post included a warning for job seekers (i.e. respect your network, say thank you, and don’t ask for too much), he reminded me of the pink elephant in the networking room.
That elephant is the fact that too many job seekers break the social contract of networking.  They have effectively pushed some very influential employed executives out of the game.  Those executives are no longer helping job seekers because their experience is that job seekers take advantage.
Specifically, he said, job seekers are blowing it during informational interviews. The classic “bait and switch”.
The big “no no”?  Asking for or about a job during the interview.
Now, some of you in transition may say:  “Are you kidding me?  I go through all the trouble to do this, and I can’t even ask about a job?  Sounds like a long run for a short slide!”
If that’s in your head, then you need to go to networking reform school.  I personally think that most job seekers that make this mistake, however, do so out of ignorance or desperation.  But it doesn’t matter why you did it.  You did it.
And as soon as you do, the original value of networking goes out the window. Instead of leaving an executive with a positive impression of you, you have put them on the defensive and have reminded them of why they normally avoid information interviews.
You see, information interviews are somewhat counter-intuitive to a job seeker.  It is not about immediate value (although that can be the result).  It is first about learning.  It is also about leaving a good impression.
And you can’t leave a good impression if you put any pressure on this person who has kindly given up 30 minutes of their day for you.  Sorry.
So, what are the benefits of informational interviews anyway?
Well, I think there are three:
  1. You learn vital information about a company, industry or management team.  This is the primary value that should be understood by both parties.  It can help you determine whether or not your experience/skills are a good match.  You may actually find that the best result of an informational interview is that you don’t think there’s a match.  Good to know.
  2. By doing the above well, you leave a positive impression with a key and potentially influential person in your target company or industry.
  3. You may learn of others with whom you can have a similar discussion.  On some occasions, you may even get a few job leads.

Notice that I didn’t include “get a job”?  That’s because informational interviews are one of the building blocks of a strong job search networking effort. So you have to have a lot of patience here.

Are you a patient person?
If not, you will lose out on the great potential value.  If impatient and desperate for quick results, you will push away the very person who might help you.
So, I’ll use myself as an example.  Here’s my career bio:
Industry Expertise:
Consumer Packaged Goods, Automotive Accessories, Computer Accessories
Marketing (Product and Brand Management)
Vice President
Southern California (primarily Orange County)
Company History: Nestle, Tree Top, Kensington Technology Group, Mauna Loa Macadamias, Meguiar’s Car Wax, Horizon Food Group

So, here are the 5 keys to successful information interviews.  If you’d like to talk to me about any of the above . . .

  1. COMMUNICATE WELL Send me a nice note on Linkedin or regular e-mail.  In the note, tell me how you found me (referral, Linkedin, etc). Introduce yourself (and don’t start with “I’m in transition”).  Tell me what your objectives are in wanting to talk.  Have someone else read the note to see if the tone is right.  Positive and thankful vs. desperate and demanding.  :-)  Suggest a few times that will work for you (so I can choose one) and offer to meet me anywhere (my office is often good/easy or a local Starbucks).  Be clear about how much time you need (30 minutes feels right to me).
  2. MIND YOUR P’s and Q’s Be on time and dress appropriately.  I don’t personally need you in business dress, but it should either match my dress or at least be a nice business casual.  Some may expect you in a suit. Have a resume, but don’t give it to me unless I ask for it.
  3. STICK TO YOUR OBJECTIVES Re-read your note to me before you arrive and stick to those objectives unless I open up other avenues with you. This is the first risk for you in information interviews.  If you pull a “bait and switch”, I will not feel good about you.  My mindset will change very quickly and, even more important, my interest in helping you will diminish.
  4. DON’T ASK FOR A JOB Do not, under any circumstances, ask for a job or inquire about possible positions opening in the near future.  This is the second risk and is truly the nuclear option. Because it can destroy the good faith partnership we started.  But, no fear.  You know why?  I already know that you are looking for a job.  So if you follow these guidelines and leave me feeling “appropriately utilized”, I will want to help you find one. It is OK to ask (at the end) if there is anyone else that I think you may benefit from meeting.  Again, assuming that you will follow these same rules.  If you do it right with me then lose your scruples with my network, I will pay the price. And so will you.  If you do meet with a friend of mine based on my recommendation, follow up with me and let me know how it went.  That may prompt a communication about you with my network.  Buzz is good!
  5. SAY THANK YOU Say a hearty “thank you” and follow up with one (written is nice but an e-mail is OK too). After our introduction, I would also be open to your asking to connect on Linkedin. You can also ask: “how can I help you?”

So, what can you expect after our meeting?  Well, maybe nothing. If you are disappointed then you still don’t get it.

But more than likely, I will think of someone for you to call. I may send you a list of networking groups in your industry. I may tell a recruiter about you (assuming you fit a search).
Think about all of this as learning something important about an industry or company, meeting someone new and, yes, creating some good karma in the work world.
Good things come to those who wait.
Those who push their personal agenda in networking end up, well, waiting.  And wondering what happened.

Tim Tyrell-Smith is the creator of Tim’s Strategy. As a blogger, Tim has been a regular contributor to U.S. News and World Report, interviewed twice on NPR and is the author of two career books (“30 Ideas” and “HeadStrong”). Become a fan at http://facebook.com/TimsStrategy and follow on Twitter (@TimsStrategy). He lives with his wife and three kids in Mission Viejo, California.

Tim Tyrell-Smith – who has written posts on Tim's Strategy®.

Written by: Tim Tyrell-Smith
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  • http://www.myexecutiveweb.com/mkunkel Mark Kunkel

    Everyone has talked a lot about what not to do or say in an informational interview. Can you provide some suggestions on how to conduct and informational interview ans what information to ask for and give? Thanks.

    • http://www.timsstrategy.com Tim Tyrell-Smith

      Hi Mark – Fair point. I will add that topic to my to do list! An you are right, sometimes the content out here is too “Don’t do”.

  • http://www.myexecutiveweb.com/mkunkel Mark Kunkel

    Everyone has talked a lot about what not to do or say in an informational interview. Can you provide some suggestions on how to conduct and informational interview ans what information to ask for and give? Thanks.

    • http://www.timsstrategy.com Tim Tyrell-Smith

      Hi Mark – Fair point. I will add that topic to my to do list! An you are right, sometimes the content out here is too “Don’t do”.

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  • http://www.aurelia.ca Jennifer

    Your post is as timely as ever. It’s hard to believe that 40 years after “What Colour is Your Parachute?” job seekers still have trouble with Information Interviews. I recommend that people tuck their short form resumé – ideally a one-page marketing resumé – into the portfolio they are using to take notes in, and produce it only if asked. The reason I suggest they bring only the short one is that the standard long one (2 or more pages looks planned), whereas anyone who is into marketing their services is likely to have  brochures and/or marketing resumé with them for most occasions. The standard resumé is the resumé that is given on request with respect to a specific (and often published) opportunity - and of course you tailor it before sending to the requester. 

    • http://timsstrategy.com/ TimsStrategy

      Thank you, Jennifer.  Love your approach and agree with it.  Maintain the expected social contract but be ready to adjust if they ask you to – great!

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