September 13, 2013

Career Advice

Try an Informational Interview

By: Roger Custer

When searching for a job, it can be difficult to wait on potential employers to contact you after you applied for several positions, met hiring managers at receptions, and did your job. However, there is another method to get yourself noticed and gain valuable advice: the informational interview.

Informational interviews are similar to real interviews but the expectation is to learn from each other without the pressure of a job offer or rejection on the horizon. You can ask the interviewer about his or her advice, what a job with the organization might entail, and which other people may be able to help. You never know what will result from an informational interview, and you’ll have a new contact moving forward.

When job searching, I asked for several informational interviews with people from different fields in which I was interested. To this day, I am in touch with several of the people with whom I interviewed. I’ve even worked with one on numerous projects that I had no way to anticipate when we had the interview.

Here are some tips for informational interviews:

1. Treat the informational interview like a real interview. Dress appropriately and act like you are interviewing for a real job, because the interviewer will remember how you conduct yourself in the meeting. Come prepared with well-researched questions about the person and the organization so you can have an intelligent conversation and offer some thoughts that will benefit the interviewer.

2. Ask with a simple email. You should send a simple email with a headline similar to “Do You Have a Few Minutes?” or “Can We Do An Informational Interview?” In the body of the email, ask for 30 minutes of the person’s time and mention any mutual friends or jobs you want that are in the organization or a similar one.

3. Provide value for the interviewer. Remember that the interviewer is giving his or her time voluntarily and could do a lot of other work during the time you are there. Be sure to come prepared with intelligent questions about that person and the organization, and offer coherent answers to the questions you are asked. Offer to help the person or organization and do your best to make it worth the other person’s time.

Recently, a student from Emerson College asked me for an informational interview. She found me through a web search and simply emailed to ask. I agreed, and she is now better networked with IHS and an intern with the Massachusetts free market think tank; neither of which she knew about before the interview.

You will be more likely to get a job and much better networked when you ask for informational interviews. Distinguish yourself by taking initiative to ask for them, and do your homework before you arrive. Best of luck to you!

Roger Custer is executive director of America’s Future Foundation. He often meets with young people for informational interviews and does his best to help as many liberty-minded young professionals as possible.