On several occasions I’ve written about the job interview and steps you can take to enhance your opportunity to be successful. But, there is another type of interview, one less used but that can be the stepping stone to a job interview and a position—the informational interview.
The most important thing to remember about an informational interview is that it is not a job interview. It is your opportunity to get to know the individual who has agreed to meet you and to learn more about his or her industry and the kinds of jobs and opportunities that might be possible in it.
The first step is to land an informational interview. To do that talk to people in your network about people they know who might be willing to talk with you. Their willingness to provide an introduction will make your job of getting the interview much easier than initiating cold calls. When you have a prospect, start by writing a letter of introduction, explaining who you are and why you are writing. If someone in your network has helped open the door for you, be sure to reference that person in your letter. End the letter with a promise to call by a specified date, and then follow through by calling when you said you would.
Once you’ve secured an interview, start preparing for it immediately. Surf the Internet and talk to the contact in your network to find out as much as possible about the person, his or her company, and the industry in general. Write down the questions you want to ask. Be prepared to talk about what you hope the meeting will accomplish and what your career goals are.
Prepare for the meeting by reviewing the questions you have developed and practicing answers to questions you are likely to be asked. On the morning of your meeting, call to confirm. Dress as you would for a job interview—professionally and well groomed. You can bring your résumé but don’t offer it unless you are asked for it. Have paper and pen or a tablet at the ready to take notes. During the meeting, focus your conversation as if you are a pupil learning from a teacher. For example, you can ask what motivated him to work in the industry and what he has learned that enabled him to be successful as he advanced in his career.
As the meeting progresses, keep an eye on the time. Be ready to offer your thanks and bring the meeting to a close at the designated time so you don’t overstay your welcome. That afternoon or evening (or the next day at the latest) write the person a thank-you note expressing your appreciation for the time and advice he has given you. It’s also considerate to send a quick note to your network contact thanking him or her for the introduction and including a recap of how the interview went.