career, interviewing, job search, learning, networking

Informational Interviews: The right way.

Yesterday, I received a LinkedIn connection request from someone outside of my network. Without an introduction, they stated that they found me in a LinkedIn group; that they are thinking of making a mid-career transition into recruiting. They want to talk with me about how I got into the industry & what my background is; what type of recruiting I do; what a typical day is like; what do I like about my job; and what suggestions I’d have for them in how to get into recruiting.

I’ll get back to what I thought of this request in a second. First, let’s talk about informational interviews.

Informational interviews can be very useful in gaining information when you are considering a career shift; you want to learn more about applying your current knowledge/skill in a different industry (recruiting in healthcare vs. tech, for instance); you want to broaden your professional network in a new city.

But informational interviews are a big ask. The person with whom you wish to meet is a successful, busy professional that likely has far too many demands on their time already. They have to carefully pick and choose what commitments they accept as the opportunity cost of time is quite high.

The example I shared above is exactly how you do NOT want to approach someone for an informational interview. This person has zero connection to me, asked questions to which they can easily find answers online, and didn’t offer anything beneficial to me in return. Here are some suggestions as to how to make the approach–and the informational interview–beneficial for both parties:

  1. Work your network. It’s FAR easier to get someone to say yes if you have a strong shared connection. When possible, I recommend you reach out to people who are no more than 2nd degree connections, and reference the person you both know in common. This makes what is otherwise a ‘cold call’ into more of a ‘warm call’.
  2. Do your homework. Research the intended target; learn their background. Reach out to people you know in common to see what they know of this person–would it be worth your time to ask them for information? Review their social media profiles. What are they talking about? What discussions/debates are they involved in? What problems are they posting about? (For instance, if they are a recruiter–what jobs are they sharing?)
  3. Find out how you can offer up front. Once you do your research, determine what you can offer to the conversation that would be of benefit to them. Find a related article to something they have been discussing in a LinkedIn group or posted to Twitter. In the recruiter scenario–who might you know in your network that could be a good fit for one of their open jobs?
  4. This is NOT a pitch for a job. Be very clear–you are seeking information. Your request to them needs to be very focused–you aren’t asking for a job; you’re not going to bring that into the discussion. You may, however, ask them about other resources (ex: whether a certain certification they have has proven worthwhile), with whom they might recommend you speak, etc.
  5. Ask, “How can I help you in return?” This almost never happens during informational interviews–and I think it’s one of the most important questions you can ask. It demonstrates not only that you want this to be reciprocally beneficial; but that you have value to offer them.


2 thoughts on “Informational Interviews: The right way.

  1. What if a jobseeker has no connections to a particular company or field that they’re targeting? How mightsomeone in this kind of situation adapt these suggestions? Thanks!

    Posted by CS2013 | September 5, 2013, 7:40 am
    • Good question. I’d first exhaust your potential avenues to connecting with someone at the company through someone you know; you might be surprised at how far your network extends. I’d first reach out to people in your target industry to ask who they might know (people aren’t always connected on LinkedIn). If that route doesn’t pan out, I’d try a few things. Look for LinkedIn groups that target professionals in that industry in your geography; join them and start adding valuable content (although I’d caution against joining any discussions until you understand the group norms); you can build a presence through that group by engaging with professionals and through that channel build a ‘warm call’ request to a member down the road. Join the local chapter of that professional industry’s association (for example, mine would be SHRM) and attend some meetings/networking events; this is a good opportunity to meet and engage with professionals in that industry. I have been approached for an informational interview by someone who attended a few events of the professional association for which I am a board member. She continued to attend our events, network, and within a few months found an opportunity in the HR field.

      Just a couple of ideas for you–I’m sure readers would have others. JJB

      Posted by Jon J-B | September 5, 2013, 8:05 am

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