They say the best information is the kind you get straight from the horse’s mouth.
In university talk that’s called “primary” research.
You can just call it the “informational” interview.
As an ex-academic research grad it never occurred to me in the early days that you could use your research interview skills to learn more about employers and their problems (hopefully before you’re desperately in need of a job).
Of course if you were a business analyst you likely do this a lot (except you’re already in a job).
It’s funny how you can forget that you can do a lot of things with an interview (just like your wrench or a towel).
Here are six things you should remember if you decide to do an informational interview as part of your networking or your job search.
1. Make Sure You’ve Got a Goal
First you better know what you’re aiming for as a career.
Or at least a fairly good idea of it so you can focus your research and cut down your preparation time.
Of course if you’re just interviewing them to network or just explore (and it’s not part of a job hunt — yet) then that’s fine.
Just be clear you know what you want out of the interview.
And make sure that one of your goals is to make the focus about the company and the person interviewed.
2. Always Do Your Homework
Sure the aim of the interview is to get information straight from the people who are involved.
You should still be doing your background “side” research so that you don’t walk into the interview completely clueless.
You should know as much as you can about the company, its people (the executives, the managers and the front line) and the person you’re going to be interviewing.
Make sure you have as much information as possible on the industry as a whole too.
In short, study everything you can get your hands on (narrowed down through Step 1).
It’s good practice for any job interview – make it a habit you can do without (too much) thinking.
3. Setup the Key Interviews
And setup interviews with industries that are related or help the industry you’re actually interested in.
It helps to round out your research so you have a birds eye view.
That way you can see trends that might directly or indirectly affect your industry.
Example. Say you’re going into the catering business.
You’d probably want to interview the businesses that supply the cakes (if your industry avoids baking their own), the wedding industry businesses and venues and maybe corporate catering businesses or the corporations themselves.
4. Keep Your Eyes and Mind Open
Always listen more than you talk.
Hear the problems and read between the lines.
Sometimes it’s what’s not said that can be helpful to you.
Write down what was said in the interview and study it carefully for clues that could help you.
Record more than words – remember the way the person you interviewed looked or how they sounded.
Body language can help you figure out what’s important and what’s not.
5. Never Ever Ask for a Job
Remember the part about goals?
Never ever ask for a job in an informational interview.
Never make it one of your goals in this case — these are informational interviews for a reason.
Your goals should have been to learn about the industry (successes, challenges and trends) and to fill in the holes of your background research.
If your goal was to ask for a job and you go in under the guise of just doing “research” you’ll have betrayed their trust.
That won’t help your cause and it may really anger them.
Note: There are exceptions to this, contact me if you want more details.
6. Always Offer to Help
Always ask them if there’s anything you can do to help or repay the favor of the interview.
These executives or hiring managers are taking time out of their schedule to meet with you after all.
Build your network of mutually helpful relationships – you never know if the person might provide an unexpected lead in the future.
Show that you care about helping others first and follow the idea of “givers gain” as much as you can.
These six steps will give you the information edge over anyone else when it comes to the real job interview.
After all you’ll get tons of practice and everything will be a conversation (not an interrogation).
So get out there, decide on some businesses or industries you’re interested in and start setting up some interviews.
You’ll learn a lot of course.
You’ll also expand your network and the number of people who will be interested in where you are next.
PS. Always remember to send a “Thank You” note within a few days of the interview.
PPS. You’re likely going to see informational interviews again among 101 other job search tips, tricks and tactics in the upcoming ebook “101 Job Search Hacks: A Cheat Sheet for Landing the Job You Want“.
(Top Photo via Squidoo)