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The Power of the Informational Interview

The informational interview is one of the most effective tools that a job seeker can deploy. If you aren’t using informational interviews on a consistent basis, you need to start, because there is no doubt they will increase your chances of getting a job offer.

An informational interview involves contacting an employee who works for a company in an industry that you are interested in exploring. You will interview the employee to find out the “realities” of his/her job and the positives and negatives of his/her industry. The objective is to learn as much as possible about the employee’s job, company and industry.

You will benefit from informational interviews by:

1. Learning more about the industry, company and position in which you have an interest

2. Building a relationship and expanding your network

3. Improving your confidence by increasing your knowledge of the industry

4. Differentiating yourself from other job seekers by showing initiative

5. Helping you determine if you are a good fit for the job and industry.

It is important to research the company and industry prior to the interview in order to prepare relevant questions. Go to the Web and Google: “Questions to ask in an informational interview”. You will find several articles with hundreds of sample questions that you can choose from.

The articles also will push you to think of additional, original questions. An average informational interview lasts 20-60 minutes. Make sure you bring more questions than you will have time to ask. You will want to take advantage of the entire time allotted for the interview.

There are two key reasons that informational interviews are not only informative, but fun:

1. You’re the one who gets to ask the questions.

2. You won’t be under pressure to come up with good answers to an interviewer’s tough questions.

Recent college graduates who make the effort to use informational interviews effectively in their job search efforts will reap huge benefits.

A few months ago, I asked Blaine Morris how a recent college graduate could enter the pharmaceutical business. Morris, until his retirement in 2009, spent 32 years as a sales representative, national account manager and district sales manager with Johnson & Johnson. Morris offered the following suggestions:

“First dig in and try to learn as much about the job and company as possible. There are many ways to do this but none more valuable than to contact a person already in the position that a candidate would like to interview for and ask appropriate questions. I would request to shadow that person for a day and interact with his or her customer base to get a take on the job responsibilities and the (customers’) likes and dislikes of the current sales representatives that call on them. Once candidates have gathered this information they should honestly assess their motivational fit for such a position and then outline their strengths and weaknesses as they go into the interviewing process.”

If you are a career changer, you can use informational interviews to explore positions in other industries. This will allow you to evaluate whether a career in any given industry will be compatible with your skills, interests, lifestyle and goals.

Are informational interviews worth your time and effort? Katherine Hansen is a believer. Hansen is the author of “A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way Into the Hidden Job Market”. She writes: “While one out of every 200 resumes – some studies put the number as high as 1,500 resumes – results in a job offer, one out of every 12 informational interviews results in a job offer. That’s why informational interviewing is the ultimate networking technique, especially considering that the purpose of informational interviews is not to get job offers.”

A job offer occasionally comes from the company with which you have conducted the informational interview. That is not your objective, however. Nor should you ask for a job interview during an informational interview. Remember, you have two objectives in an informational interview:

1. To find out as much information about the industry, company and specific job responsibilities from the person you are interviewing

2. To increase your network by building relationships in your chosen industry

Informational interviews require you to take initiative. They require you to be proactive. They require you to step outside your comfort zone. Companies can train employees in a lot of areas but they cannot train someone to take initiative. Conducting informational interviews will help you stand out among other interviewees.

Make it one of your goals this week to schedule an informational interview with someone who has a job in an industry that interests you. Once you have secured your first informational interview, start scheduling others and see the positive difference they will make in your job search.

BoomersNextStep Guest Author

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