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Everything You Need to Know About Informational Interviews

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Your résumé is so polished it shines, you have a stack of cover letters as thick as your thesis, and you’re getting hourly notifications from every job search site known to man. There’s nothing wrong with all that—these are all important steps in the job search process, but one tool you might not be taking advantage of is the informational interview.

So what is an informational interview all about, anyway? This informal meeting can last anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour and offers you the opportunity talk with an industry professional about his or her background, qualifications, and career path.

Don’t expect to get the same results as a regular job interview—this process is more about building connections and learning about your chosen industry. Just keep these ABCs in mind and you’ll be sure to ace yours.

 A: Advance Prep = Less Awkwardness

Start by deciding on your chosen industry and/or companies, and target a few individuals you find interesting. Once someone agrees to meet you, find out everything you can about him or her, including current and previous positions, alma mater, and any published articles or blog posts (Remember: LinkedIn, Google, and Twitter are your besties).

You’ll also want to have a detailed list of questions or discussion points. Do you want to learn about the industry in general or this person’s specific position? Either way, spend some time before your meeting thinking about what you’re hoping to get out of it.

You should also be prepared to talk about yourself. What is your background? Why are you interested in this profession? What made you contact this particular person? Remember that you’ve asked someone to take time out of their busy day, so you want to be sure you’re not wasting it.

B: Be Businesslike (But Don’t Overdo It)

You want to present yourself as confident and professional, but also aware of the fact that this is not an actual job interview. Wear something clean and classy—think business casual, but slightly dressier.

Men don’t need to wear ties, but slacks and blazers are a good idea. Women can wear a tailored shirt and skirt or pants or a tasteful dress. Keep your makeup and jewelry simple.

The end result of an informational interview is rarely a job, and it is not cool to ask for one. Instead, end by asking if your interviewee has any other contacts they’d recommend speaking with.

 C: Courtesy And Charm Are Classy

Do everything you can to be courteous and charming. Start by thanking your interviewee for their time. Offer to buy their coffee if you’re meeting in a café. Be aware of the time and don’t take more than an hour (or whatever amount of time they agreed to meet you for).

There’s nothing wrong with complimenting their professional accomplishments—as long as you’re being genuine.

Don’t forget to send a thank you email after your meeting. Keep it brief, but be sure to mention one or two specific points you learned from your meeting. Make a good impression on your interviewee, and you just might make an industry contact or friend for years to come.

Homework time! Start by making a list of your dream industries, companies, and jobs. Then explore your network to see if you know anyone who matches up. Don’t be afraid to ask your friends and family if they could introduce you to anyone. It may take a little while ‘til you find someone who agrees to meet you, but don’t get discouraged.

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