Landing an Informational Interview

Although it's generally possible to garner an informational interview once you have a referral, you still have to do the legwork . You should be able to set up informational interviews with your primary contacts easily enough - perhaps all you'll have to do is pick up the phone and request a face-to-face meeting.

However, once your network extends beyond people who already know you, and you're soliciting "secondary contacts," you'll have to switch to a more formal approach: the written pitch and verbal follow-up combination. Your written pitch should include a cover letter (that lets the reader know exactly who referred you to them and when you'll be calling to set up an interview) , résumé, and list of interview questions. Then, at the appointed day and time, follow up with a phone call to arrange a meeting.

Surviving the Telephone Screening Process

Even though you've prepared the secondary contact for your call, you still might find yourself screened by a gatekeeper - an administrative assistant or receptionist, or a voice mail system. In either case, begin your verbal pitch by mentioning the name of the person who referred you. You might say, for instance, "Doug Winters suggested that I call Mr. Hartley." Then explain that you're following up on a letter (and cite the date) that you previously sent.

Your task is to make it as easy as you can for whoever is screening your call to pass the essentials about who you are and why you're calling (or, if a voice-mail system is screening your call, to deliver the message yourself efficiently and succinctly). At PIT, we suggest that if you have to leave a voice-mail message, (and you frequently will), be sure to spell your name, provide your phone number and state exactly when and where you'll be available by telephone so your potential contact can reach you. It is also perfectly appropriate to state a date and time when you will try to reach the contact again.

You might be able to bypass the gatekeeper and voice mail system altogether if you call either before or after working hours, or during lunch. At these times, your potential contact might be more inclined to answer the phone. But don't count on it, and don't spend too much of your valuable time conducting pre-dawn and post-sunset sneak attacks. Many people screen their calls all the time and, if you want to reach them, you'll eventually have to deal with either a human or electronic intermediary.

Other Timing Tips

Some days are better than others for rustling people up by telephone. In my experience:

  • Wednesdays and Thursdays are the best days of the week for making follow-up calls.
  • Mondays tend to be tough days to reach people, because many of them are struggling to get back into the workday routine.
  • Tuesdays are the heaviest mail days.
  • On Fridays, people are usually in a rush to wind up their work so they can begin their weekends.
  • Wednesdays and Thursdays tend to be the most relaxed, business-as-usual days of the week, and they're the best days for phone calls.
However, the most important timing technique you have at your disposal is to follow up by phone exactly when you said you would in your letter. Even if you don't get the contact to come to the phone on your first try, you have demonstrated your reliability and increased your chances of a positive response.

When They Don't Respond

If you don't hear back from the potential contact soon after you've called for the first time, don't despair. He or she might be out of town or overwhelmed by work. Your phone message (or perhaps your original letter) may have been misplaced or garbled, so go about your business and call again at another time.

A tried-and-true PIT technique for reaching a professional who hasn't called you back after you've left a couple of messages is to send him or her a copy of your original letter. Hand write on the copy of the letter a short note explaining that your previous correspondence may have been lost. Suggest another day and time when you will call back, and then do so. You'll usually find a waiting and apologetic contact who's eager to make amends with you.

Most people to whom you're referred really will want to meet with you, and you should be able to arrange informational meetings with them if you're polite and persistent. Inevitably, though, you may run across one or two who just aren't willing to connect with you.

  • If someone plays so hard to get that you find yourself leaving five unanswered messages, move on.
  • You can't force somebody to grant you an informational interview, no matter who referred you. And, even if you could, you wouldn't receive enough of a benefit from such a meeting to make it worth your time and energy.
  • The good news is that there are enough professionals who will want to meet with you so that you don't have to agonize unduly over the one or two who "get away."

©Copyright 2008 Professionals In Transition Support Group, Inc.

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