Listicle: How to get the most from informational interviews
Do not think of them as one-off meetings, rather a way of building relationships
Informational interviews: a safe place to ask questions
When you’re looking for a job or exploring a new career path, it’s smart to have informational interviews. But what should you say, and how should you ask for more help if you need it? Here are seven tips:
1 Prepare and practice
Informational interviews are “a safe environment to ask questions,” says Dorie Clark, author of Stand Out Networking. But you must do your homework. Study industry lingo. Learn who the biggest players are. Be able to talk about important trends.
2 Keep your introduction short
“What frustrates busy people is when they agree to an informational interview, and then the person seeking advice spends 15 minutes talking about himself and his job search” instead of learning from them, says John Lees, a UK-based career strategist and author of The Success Code. Clark suggests preparing a “brief, succinct explanation about yourself” that you can recite in three minutes or less.
3 Set the tone
“You want to leave people with a positive impression and enough information to recommend you to others,” Lees says. At the beginning, revisit how you were connected.
4 Think like a journalist
Prepare a list of informed questions, Clark says. “You don’t necessarily need to stick to the script, but if you’re unfocused and you haven’t planned, you risk offending the person.”
5 Test your hypotheses
Your mission is to grasp the reality of the industry and the job so you can decide if it’s right for you.
Clark suggests questions “designed to elicit the worst information.” Some topics, such as money, may seem taboo but can be broached delicately by asking the person to confirm research you did online. You can also ask for advice on “how to position yourself” for a job in the industry by making your experience and skills sound relevant, she says.
6 Follow up with gratitude, not demands
While thanking the person via email is a must, Lees also recommends sending a handwritten note. Your letter should describe how the person was helpful and, ideally, that her guidance led to “a concrete outcome” in your job search. Whatever you do, don’t immediately ask for a favour, Clark adds.
7 Play the long game
Informational interviews are meant to build relationships, so don’t think of them as one-off meetings. Instead, consider ways to cultivate your new professional connection. – Copyright Harvard Business Review 2016
Previously published in The Irish Times.
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