How to Make Your Informational Interview Matter

For folks who are trying to figure out what an occupation is really like before taking the leap or for those trying to build their connections to help with their job search efforts, informational interviews can be extremely helpful. Really, what is better than one-on-one time with someone who can offer you career advice at minimum, and at the end of the spectrum, if all goes well, someone who may offer to pass along your resume to the right people and tell you about unadvertised jobs?

Informational interviews can be a highly effective way to build connections. If the meetings are done right, they can be an amazing way to make a positive first impression with a professional in your field of interest. But, when a meeting is not done well, it will burn a bridge, or worse really frustrate someone who could have been an ally in your career goals.

A Communications Director of a non-profit organization (who prefers to remain anonymous) recalls an informational interview that was a good example of what not to do when trying to build contacts.

“Initially, I was really excited to be asked to share my experience, but during the phone conversation, I wasn’t getting much feedback. I didn’t know if what I was answering and suggesting was helpful or interesting. Especially when you can’t see the other person’s body language, it is really important to show you are interested by how you respond.”

At the end of the conversation, the Communications Director kindly offered to critique the mentee’s resume and emailed back a comprehensive critique that had taken her quite some time to do during a busy time at work and home, and then…crickets. Our professional recalls, “Four days later, the person emailed me back with a brief message that said ‘Thank you for the critique. Do you know anyone else I could talk with?’ I couldn’t believe it.” Bridge burned.

This example is what I like to call transactional networking. The idea that networking is about focusing on the number of interactions, rather than the quality of the relationships. This is absolutely not what effective networking should involve. Life gets busy. But that is no excuse for not staying in touch and responding to others in a timely way…especially when you initiated the connection.

Here are some tips to consider when networking.

1. Be genuine. If you are job searching, say so, but elaborate on your reason for meeting. For instance, getting advice, learning more about an organization, figuring out what kinds of jobs may fit your skill set, and so on. Let the person know your purpose for conversation and a bit about your background, but most importantly, show 100% interest in their story.

2. Write excellent introduction emails. When you’re contacting someone you don’t know well or don’t know at all, a personal introductory email is essential. Provide a quick and clear introduction of who you are, how you came to contact that individual and what you hope to get from that person as a contact. Indicate why you chose the recipient specifically — preferably by showing that you’ve done your research — and provide your contact information, including links to your LinkedIn profile and/or personal web page.

3. Develop good questions and weave them into conversation. The main goal is to build rapport through natural conversation. Prepare ahead of time by building interesting, insightful questions based on your goals for the meeting. Remember to make the questions open ended: How did you get your first job after graduation? Based on what you know about me, what kind of job do you think would be aligned with my skills? I noticed from your LinkedIn that you used to work in a different industry; how did you successfully make the transition? Review our Networking Booklet for more ideas about creating good questions.

4. Manage your contacts to strengthen them over time. Keep records about your interactions with the people in your network. Include contact information, key details you’ve learned and track your follow ups. You can even use free software like jibberjobber, designed exactly for this purpose, or use the Networking Booklet to just create your own.

5. Show your gratitude. Be sure to thank — in writing — the people who take the time to be part of your network. Send thank-you notes to let your contacts know you appreciate their time and interest, and thank them if something they said or did made an impact on your career. Email is fine, though written cards will be more memorable. Be on the lookout for opportunities to help them out and/or share information they would be interested in based on your conversation.

6. It’s all about the rapport. While it’s true that one connection often leads to another, wait until you are sure your rapport is good before you ask. Often people will offer to help once they are reasonably sure they can refer you to their colleagues. In essence, see Tips 1 through 5.

Try and think from the other person’s perspective. After you reach out to the person you were referred to in a timely manner, remember to circle back to your original contact to update them about your conversation and thank them again. Completing the networking circle will maintain relationships and not leave them wondering if you ever followed up with their suggestion.
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These are the kind of recommendations that can help you turn a good strategy for building and using your network into a good and successfulstrategy for building and using your network, and that can make all the difference.

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