10 Tips for Informational Interviews

1. Use your network

It distinguishes you from entry-level job seekers and makes employers take you seriously. “I think if you don’t have any contacts, cold call,” says Laura Gassner Otting, author of Transitioning to the Nonprofit Sector: Shifting Your Focus from the Bottom Line to a Better World. “But I’d say if you don’t think you have any contacts, you probably haven’t looked hard enough.”

2. Be a translator

Employers want examples of your transferable talents. “For me, the most important thing is to try to understand what their current skill set is,” says Marietta Cozzi, vice-president of staffing for Prudential Financial. She points out that medical experience makes an interviewee an attractive candidate for underwriting.

Alexander Chernev, associate professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management, recommends charting instances in which you demonstrated attributes like leadership, creativity, and teamwork at each job you’ve held and school you’ve attended.

3. Avoid cliché answers to cliché questions.

Although the interview is likely to start with “Tell me about yourself,” be sure to provide a unique and colorful answer that distinguishes you from other candidates, Chernev says in Mastering the Job Interview: Your Guide to Successful Business Interviews. For example, a mountain climber who helped a fellow mountaineer in crisis could use that story to show leadership, management skill, and teamwork to a consulting company. A poker player could tell a potential employer she is skilled at sizing up the competition.

4. Be specific

It is better to be honest about what you’re looking for—and not looking for—than to appear desperate.

5. Do your research

Read industry journals and annual reports, and study operating principals, product, and financial information for any company you’re interested in. But once you’ve done your research, don’t hide behind your computer. All that information won’t do you any good if you don’t seek out the face-to-face interactions that are vital to networking.

 

6. Stay organized

Steven Goldberg, former general counsel and executive V.P. for a marketing company, is known around Boston for the one-inch binder he carries to interviews on his quest for a senior management position in social enterprises, venture philanthropy, economics, or education. Otting says the binder impressed her so much that she passed his name along to other well-connected professionals in the field.

7. Get out there

Volunteering, joining organizations, and attending industry events will allow you to make contacts that could lead to interviews, and will also refine your knowledge about an industry or profession.

 

8. Have a career-change buddy

Job searching can be lonely. It can be particularly frustrating when you’re looking to change careers, as your networking process can be a very gradual one. Even if your “buddy” isn’t looking to switch careers, he or she can help keep you on track and provide inspiration and encouragement.

9. Talk to everyone you know

Informational interviews can happen anywhere—from the golf course to the elevator—and you never know who can be helpful to you.

10. Ask about next steps

Always end with, “Is there anyone else I should talk to?” advises Bill Coleman, senior vice-president of compensation for Salary.com. But don’t let your desire for contacts consume the conversation. People who thought you were looking for information and insight can be turned off if they feel they’re only a conduit to someone else.

 

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