CAREER

5 Ways to Make the Most of an Informational Interview

By Jess Watts
Director of Strategy at RPA

Informational interviewsInformational interviews are the unsung hero of the networking world. You gain insider perspective of a potential employer, and a foot in the door. These calls are beneficial at any level — from entry-level, career climbers or the recently unemployed. I’ve happily accepted many requests over the decade… and regretted a few.

If you want to make it worth your time (and your interviewees), there are five things that make the difference.

1. Do Your Homework

Asking rudimentary questions signals you didn’t care enough to be prepared. Read up on who you’re chatting with, including their blogs or press releases. Have a sense of what’s going on with their company — such as new wins or changing priorities. It communicates you value the precious time being given, and the knowledge will make for a more productive conversation.

2. The 60/40 Rule

Kickoff by sharing a little about yourself and what you hope to learn — and then get out of your own way. The object of the discussion is to mine their unique expertise and viewpoint — so 60% of the time should be spent learning what you want to know. Be prepared with thoughtful questions that guide discussion. Ultimately, the more you listen, the better you’ll be able to identify what topics are best suited for them to discuss (and how you fit in).

3. Don’t Be a Bad Date

The worst interviews feel like a bad first date. When an informational is really a guise for a personal sales pitch, I start looking at the clock. We all know there are ulterior motives to informational interviews — you want a job — but respect the informative purpose. It’s fine to ask how you can learn about new job openings, but if they didn’t offer up open positions by the end of the call, there may be a reason why.

4. Decide Your Three Points

You are, of course, still trying to network future opportunities, so put your best foot forward. Identify the three most salient things about you, and lace them into conversation naturally. They can be accomplishments, similar experience, but above all they should be specific. Make sure one of those three talking points pertains to you personally, so you can leave a memorable imprint as a person.

5. Request an Additional Name

It’s fair to ask if there is anyone else that they think you’d benefit from talking to, and if they can put you in touch. Narrow down your request — if you’d like to speak to someone with a comparable background, that gives some parameters of who they should think of, and why. Remember: this is a request, which means they have no obligation here. And don’t forget that thank you note!

Times are hard, but luckily many are trying to lend a hand. Make the most of the generosity by scheduling as many informational interviews as you can, and ensuring the conversation is rewarding for the both of you.

Jess Watts
Jess Watts

As Director of Strategy at advertising agency RPA, Jess leads brand development for a wide range of beloved brands, such as Farmers Insurance and Southwest Airlines. She was named one of Business Insider’s Rising Stars of Madison Avenue, and has been quoted or featured in Forbes, NPR, ADWEEK, MediaPost and more. Follow Jess on Twitter @wattsthemighty and on Linkedin.

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