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The Informational Interview – and how to approach it

When I suggest interviewing someone for information, my Women Returners’ coaching clients 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.

Remember, people
love helping others if it is within their competency to do so and doesn’t take
up too much time. Allan Luks investigated what happens to people when they help
others. He described the experience as a ‘Helpers High’. Helping actually reduces
stress levels and releases endorphins, the brain’s painkillers.

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 the Women Returners coaching team, Gilly Freedman. It is an edit of a post which first appeared on Career Counselling Services.