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Ask the Career Coach: Conducting a Successful Informational Interview

Thursday, November 7, 2013
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Each month we’ll pose a career-related question to one of ASTD’s Career Center Coaches.  This month’s featured coach is Marilyn A. Feldstein, career coach, professional speaker, author and president of Career Choices Unlimited, Inc.

Q:  I’ve heard that an Informational Interview can open doors that lead to job interviews.  What is it and how do you get people to talk with you?

A:  An informational interview is one of the most effective tools you have when looking for your next position.  It’s critical in your career exploration to meet with as many people as possible to help determine if this is a position or career that you’re interested in and will be a good fit.  We need others to help open doors, especially when 80 percent of job seekers find their next position through networking. 

Here’s how to conduct an informational interview:

You will initiate the meeting

Your goal is to learn more about the employer’s business or position, how he reached that position, and to obtain advice and leads.  It’s best to call the person to set yourself apart from those who email.  You will ask to meet in person or via phone for 15-20 minutes. 

If asked why you’re calling, do not say, “I’m looking for a job” or “I need a job.”  If you say either, he’ll tell you to apply online.  Instead, say something like, “I’m seeking advice, and you are a great person to provide it.”

Or, if you were referred to this person, then say, “Name referred me to you, and she said that you are the perfect person to give me advice.”  By saying this, you just made that person an expert, and, of course, he’ll want to help you. 

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Ideally, you want to meet in person—especially if he’s local, so you can shake hands, make eye contact, and leave a positive impression.  However, if it’s impossible to meet in person, then arrange the Informational Interview via phone or computer.

The informational interview does not have an ulterior motive.  Remember: It’s all about building relationships—not to land a job, even if you’re feeling desperate.  If you ask the right questions, he will be more inclined to help you.

Be prepared with open-ended questions

You’ll want to prepare a typed one-page sheet with up to five questions.  Remember that you have only 15-20 minutes for this meeting.  Here are some sample questions to ask:

  • How did you get into your position or profession?
  • What are your goals this year?  Are you on track to reach them? (If he’s not, this may be a perfect segue to offer your services to help him get on track.)
  • What developments or trends could affect the business or opportunities?
  • What career progression would you suggest?
  • Can you recommend 2-3 other people, and may I say that you referred me?

You must sell yourself

While the purpose of the informational interview is to learn about others, you must let him know where you are in your career and what you want to do next, using your transferable skills.  This is the time to use your 30-second introduction.  Do not leave this meeting without doing so.

Tip # 1:  Be sure to do your research on the company and individual you’re meeting with, and check him out on Google and Linkedin.com, which may give you some great talking points. 

Tip # 2:    Bring your résumé, but do not hand it to the person at the beginning of the meeting, or he will focus only on you.  Say, “I did bring my résumé, and I’d like to give it to you at the end, as I first want to learn more about you and the company/organization.”  If you are speaking via phone, you may send your résumé in advance or after the call.  Remember that this meeting is to learn as much as you can about the other person, especially in the initial call.

Tip # 3:  Send a handwritten thank-you note within 24 hours to properly show your appreciation.

About the Author
Marilyn A. Feldstein, the founder and president of Career Choices Unlimited, is certified as a Job and Career Transition Coach, a Professional in Human Resources, and an administrator of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator instrument. She has more than 20 years of experience in all aspects of career management. Marilyn has been active in ATD for many years and served on the Program Advisory Committee for ATD's International Conference & Exposition in 2014 and 2015. Additionally, she has provided career coaching at ATD's International Conference & Exposition for more than five years, and is familiar with the career issues talent development professionals face. Marilyn is a contributor to multiple resume and career books, including Find Your Fit (ATD Press). She also has published articles in  TD magazine and is the author of the ATD  Infoline “ Defining and Leveraging Your Professional Value.” She earned a master’s degree from Penn State University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Florida.
1 Comment
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Thank you for giving such clear and detailed steps for this process. I changed careers about 2 years ago and am trying to grow my L&D network of contacts. I will definitely use this advice.
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