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The Informational Interview – and how to approach it

When we suggest interviewing someone for information, returners often say:

  • I don’t want to waste people’s time
  • I’ll come across as nervous and unconfident
  • I’m not sure what I have to offer

Remember that the best way to find out about a job or a company is by talking to people with this knowledge. And here’s a statistic: One out of every 10 informational interviews results in a job offer. Considering that the purpose of informational interviewing is not to ask for a job, what a fantastic side effect! How does that happen? Well, in two key ways: you might tap into the hidden job market (i.e. ‘get in there’ before the job has even been advertised) or they might be impressed by you and decide to create a role for you.

Informational interviewing is not new; Richard Bolles coined it in his book, ‘What Colour is your Parachute?’ in the ’70s. But perhaps it is easier than ever now to hide behind sophisticated technology, scanning job alerts, looking at job sites and skimming online adverts rather than researching through getting out and talking to people.

What is Informational Interviewing?

  • It is a way of having a focused conversation with someone in your network in a job, sector or organisation that interests you
  • It is an opportunity to gather information about a particular industry sector or role, to get the ‘inside story’ from
    someone who is working in the area and to demonstrate your interest and enthusiasm to find out more
  • It isn’t asking for a job
  • It is an opportunity to build your network by asking for names of others they could recommend you to talk to.

How can you overcome your barriers to Informational Interviewing?

I’d like to tackle each of the fears mentioned above.

I don’t want to waste people’s time
I’d encourage you to:
  • Do thorough research on the person, the role and the industry.
  • Prepare good questions to ask based on what you want to find out about.
  • Say your interviewee comes recommended: People love to be flattered if it is genuine!
  • Don’t ask for a job as they’ll have to say ‘no’
  • Ask for their help in giving suggestions, feedback and ideas
  • Manage the time; say ‘I only want to take up 20 minutes of your time’; keep to this timing; thank them and finish.
I’ll come across as nervous and unconfident
I’ll remind you:
  • Thomas Gilovich has found in numerous studies that people overestimate the extent to which they think other people can sense how they are feeling. We appear less nervous than we feel. He calls this the ‘Transparency illusion’.
  • He also shows that we imagine others are far more confident than we are. He calls this the ’Confidence Con’.
  • So, remember you look more confident than you feel. This is an opportunity to boost your self-esteem by dressing smartly for the meeting, maintaining your professionalism and getting back into the work environment.

I’m not sure what I have to offer

I’ll reassure you:
  • Try and make the meeting mutual and think about what you can offer them. Perhaps you have some industry insights from former meetings or can recommend a good article or a useful contact
  • Ask about them, what they enjoy and like less about their work; how they got into it and what they would recommend. Then listen deeply. People love to talk about themselves if really listened to.
  • Do thank them. John Lees suggests that a hand-written note is still appreciated and it is a great way of showing gratitude and making yourself memorable.

Next time you are feeling wary of interviewing for information remember the benefits; you might just uncover a role too!

This post was written by one of our coaching team, Gilly Freedman. It is an edit of a post which first appeared on Career Counselling Services.