Whether you’re struggling to land an interview, you’re not quite sure about your next move, or even if you’re happy in your current role, in order to get ahead, you may want to consider getting a few informational interviews on the calendar.
Incorporating these meetings into your career is like adding another valuable instrument to your professional development toolbox.
Here are four ways an informational interview can be a job search game changer.
You can build your network
Even if you’re a reluctant networker, meeting for an informational interview can be an uncomplicated but effective way to expand your professional network. They can be key to establishing professional friendships, helping you find a willing mentor, and appearing on a hiring manager’s radar.
A great place to start is with your closest contacts. When you’re dialed into your circle of friends, acquaintances, or former colleagues, you never know when transitions in your own network may lead to the discovery of a new organization or meeting someone you’d like to learn more about.
If you share a mutual connection with someone you admire, ask for an introduction. And if your contact is unable to make the connection for you, consider reaching out with a well-crafted email, direct message, or LinkedIn request.
You can also be creative about how you pursue or ask for chats. You could:
- Attend subject-focused meetups or conferences: If the area is new to you, come prepared with questions. Seek answers during a Q&A period or consider approaching a panelist or speaker directly. You may be able to exchange contact info and arrange a brief phone call or video chat if an in-person meeting isn’t possible.
- Create an informal networking group: Gather a couple of friends and ask them to bring someone along to a happy hour, dinner, or event. You may even want to invite contacts you meet through meetups or on social media, if you’re in the same city.
Regardless of whether you book an in-person meeting through a friend or engage in a casual discussion or email exchange, these can lead to organic opportunities to learn, build a professional connection, and maybe even hear about a new job prospect.
You'll get some good interview practice
While informational interviews are certainly more casual than an “official” job interview, they can still mirror many of the same aspects of first-round interviews. Use this to your advantage!
- Show that you’ve done your homework: Give yourself time to learn more about the person on the other side of the table so that you can develop specific questions about what brought her to the organization or area of focus, resources or training she'd suggest you explore, and any advice she can offer you about charting a similar path.
- Work through interview jitters: While you may not be interviewing for an open position, taking the time to do your research and go through the motions of your actual pre-interview routine—from choosing an outfit to mapping your route to the interview destination—can be great practice.
- Establish a rapport: Take this time to practice being relaxed, engaged, and yourself. Don’t just recite the questions you’ve prepared and remember to do your best to be present and show how grateful you are for the other person’s time.
- Follow up: After you meet, send a thoughtful thank-you note and express interest in staying in touch.
Treating an informal meeting—whether it’s at a coffee shop, via Skype, or in an office—like a dress rehearsal for the real thing may help you feel more prepared the next time you find yourself in an official interview.
Find hints on ways to fill in your skill gaps
It’s very possible that you’re requesting an informational interview with someone at an organization you’d like to work for in the future. If that’s the case, leverage the meeting to find out what you need to be doing to make yourself a more attractive candidate down the road. That may mean bringing along your resume and a sample cover letter and asking for direct feedback with questions like these:
- Would you be comfortable offering feedback on areas for improvement on my cover letter and/or resume?
- How do you recommend gaining the skills I need and demonstrating them in an application?
Take this new insight and apply it to a professional learning plan to become a more viable candidate for roles of interest.
Uncover your next steps
Informational interviews can be an important tool to help you in determining your level of satisfaction at your current job. The key is to avoid waiting until you’re already in a rut or between jobs to get one or two on the calendar.
Consider an information al interview real-life research. Maybe you’re thinking about a move to the social-impact sector from the private sector or you’re interested in exploring a shift in your issue area. These meetings can be the perfect vehicle to help you analyze your options and identify a new or developing passion for the next move.
Wherever you find yourself in your career, don’t forget to consider making informational interviews a staple in your job-resource tool chest. Actively use this aid to build meaningful connections, develop your skill set, and continue forging ahead on your professional path.
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About the Author | Yoona Wagener is a freelance writer and WordPress developer who believes in the value of nonlinear career paths. She has experience in academic publishing, teaching English abroad, serving up customer support to software end users, writing online help documentation, and mission-driven nonprofit marketing and communications.