ALC Consulting

June 3, 2009

Informational or Networking Interviews – Part 1

Filed under: Informational Interviews,Interviewing — Anne Cloward @ 5:30 am

 newspaper reporter

This is what I know about informational interviewing. It was taught to me by someone who has conducted more than 300 face-to-face interviews. On two separate occasions of career change he built strong networks which ultimately resulted in multiple job opportunities. Although he started with people he knew, the majority of the interviews were with people with whom he was not previously acquainted.

An informational or networking interview is a 20-30 minute interview with two purposes.  One goal is to find out more about an industry or company; however, the second goal is the more important.  It is to expand the number of people who are aware you are looking to make a career change.  

In approaching someone for such an interview, you explain to them that you are making a career change and you would like to spend a few minutes with them to get their advice and opinions on growth areas in the economy and where you should focus your efforts.  They need to feel comfortable that you are not coming to ask them for a job.  Being asked for a job is unpleasant; being asked for advice is flattering.

You must be respectful of their time. Ask if you can come to their office and spend twenty minutes with them.  Most employed people are busy and do not have an hour or so to just talk, at least that is how they view themselves. A request for an hour of their time often seems like too much.  When you are conducting the interview, keep track of the time. When you have reached your stated time limit, begin to close the interview. If the person you are interviewing wants to continue the interview, that’s fine, but it’s their choice.

 The person you are interviewing should lead the discussion. You are there to gather information and to create a favorable impression.  If you dominate the discussion, you will not achieve either goal.  Be prepared to respond to “Tell me about yourself.” in no more than ninety seconds.  Let the person you are meeting with ask for more detail in areas that are of interest to him or her.  Also be prepared to ask some opened ended questions of the person you are meeting with, such as:

  •  What is your industry like? Does it provide services, product, or people?
  • What technologies are employed in this industry?
  • What do you see in the future for this industry?
  • What do you do in the company?
  • What qualifications does it take to be a success in your industry? (Education, certifications, etc.) 
  • What other qualities or soft skills are prized in this field?
  • How long have you been doing this?
  • What challenges are facing your industry in today’s economic times?

 Remember, you are not in this interview to ask for a job.  It is likely that the person you are meeting with will not know of any appropriate job openings.  You are trying to establish a relationship here. The most important qualities you want to display are respect and trust. You do this by sticking to your word about time and lines of inquiry. DO NOT PULL A “BAIT AND SWITCH” and put your host on the spot by turning this into a job interview. That’s not what he signed up for!

 The last and most important question you should ask is, “Can you give me the names of two other people in who might have time to talk with me as you have?” Often you get more than two. Ask if you can use their name when contacting them.

 As you end your interview, ask if you can leave your resume.  It is your calling card.  You should not send it in advance or hand it out at the beginning of your interview.

 Finally, remember to send a brief thank you note or email.  Then set up a tickler system to remind you to touch base each month with each person you interview.  The contact can be a quick phone call, voice message or email.  Just let them know that you are still continuing your search and ask them to let you know if anyone else comes to mind that you should contact.  The object is to keep you in their memory so if they become aware of a possible job opportunity, they will think of you.

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