5 Steps to a Successful Informational Interview
Updated: Oct 25, 2020
Dear Coach Kwan,
I feel like I'm doing something wrong when I try to network. I've asked my professor to connect me with a few professionals in his network. When I got on a call with those professionals and asked if they can refer me to the company, they all said that they would keep an eye out for me. Unfortunately, I never hear anything back. What is your advice for my situation?
An International Student wanting to build skills in networking
First of all, kudos to you for taking the initiative to ask your professor to recommend a few people for you to connect with. That is really a good start! Now, what you need next is the right skillset for informational interviews. According to Money-Zine.com, the term "informational interview" refers to a meeting used to gather information about a specific job, field of work, company, or industry. Informational interviews are not part of the hiring process; they are information sharing sessions initiated by job seekers as well as employers.
I consider an "Informational Interview" a part of a networking approach. An informational interview is not just about meeting with someone to get some information from them. It is also a process to build meaningful connections and finally get referred to an organization of your dreams.
Before even starting an informational interview, you should do intensive research about the company, industry, and the person. Don't walk into a meeting unprepared! Once you've got someone to agree to meet you for a phone or video call (or an in-person meeting when the pandemic is over!), here's the flow of a conversation during this information interview:
Step 1: Warming Up a Conversation:
Instead of jumping into your self-introduction or getting straight to the point, please start with something that helps you two get warmed up! People are likely to open to you if you are perceived as friendly. If you already know them, ask something about them like how's your daughter? or how's your new job? If you don't know them before, then you can simply start with a thank you like "Thank you so much for taking the time to meet with me today." The beginning of the conversation should be light and pleasant.
Step 2: Setting the Stage:
Let them know what you're interested in about them. For example, if you two are connected via LinkedIn, you can refer to one of their posts that you came across and what you liked about it. If this is the second time that you two are connected, you can refer to the previous conversation. You can also pick something about their profile that you really liked, for example, if they are on the board of the PMI San Francisco Bay Area Chapter and you are interested in building skills in project management, you can ask about their experience and their vision as a leader of the organization.
Step 3: Giving the Elevator Pitch and Asking for Advice:
After you’ve set the stage, then it is time for you to give the elevator pitch and move on to "asking for advice."
For an elevator pitch, think of it as a personal summary designed to convey what you're doing, your skills, your past experience, and your career goals in a way that is concise and engaging. It should not be longer than 60 seconds (100 words). Please also be flexible enough to adapt and modify your pitch to fit in with the situation and the audience. If you two met before, this elevator pitch will help refresh their memory about your brand and your goal. It is important to own your brand and communicate your goal consistently.
After a clear, concise, and engaging pitch, please follow by asking for advice.
For example; When searching for a position in [the field that your contact is in] —what advice would you give me about how to best prepare?
You can also ask questions that will help you tap into a hidden job market like
Do you see any potential new projects coming up within the organization/ the department?
Listen carefully to what's the project about. What's the goal. What kind of challenges they need to tackle. Who will be the team members in the project, and ask a follow-up question like
"Will they be looking for an additional team member with (your skills/experience)?"
These two questions will help you navigate the hidden job market and be able to get to know about the job before it's even posted.
Step 4: Getting to Know Them:
Ask open-ended questions to get to know your new connections on both professional and personal levels. When you get to know their pet names, their hobbies, or their favorite vacation destination, you've cracked the networking code.
Here are some good questions to get to know someone on a professional level:
Why did you choose to follow this career path or this field?
What do you like most about your work?
What’s the toughest part of being the organizational leader?
Here are some good questions to get to know someone on a personal level:
Were you born and raised in [the city that they’re currently located]?
What do you like to do for fun?
What is your favorite vacation destination?
and end with a magic sentence:
Is there anything I can do to help?
Step 5: Tapping Into Their Network:
Remember that you’re trying to build a relationship, not fire off as many questions as you can. However, don’t leave the meeting without knowing who you’re contacting next
When wrapping up the meeting, please ask for recommendations for two or three more people who would be good to talk to as you continue networking.
Within 24 hours after your informational interview, please send a follow-up email. If someone connects you with a professional in their circle, make sure to send them a thank you note to let them know how much you value the support. Not only is acknowledging their help polite, but it will also encourage them to refer to other valuable connections to you in the future.
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