At the Meeting

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Although the dynamics of an informational interview are different than a job interview, there are many basic rules that apply to both.

  • Be on time (which actually means be ten or fifteen minutes early) and dress formally, as though you were trying to convince someone to hire you.
  • Come prepared with a notebook and pen, and have handy your own copy of the questions you mailed in advance to your contact.
Your primary goal in an informational interview is to establish a rapport with the other person, and to make a friend who will want you to succeed in your job search. You also want a decision-maker's perspective on how you fit into the "big picture."

Be willing to listen to and learn from what the professional has to say, even if it isn't what you had hoped to hear. Use the questions you've brought with you to launch your conversation. These might include:

  • How did you get started in the industry?
  • What do you like best and least about the industry?
  • In your mind, what qualifications are required to be successful in the industry?
  • How well would someone with my work experience fit into the industry?
  • What are my résumé's strengths and weaknesses?
But no matter how carefully you've fashioned your questions, you'll want to "go with the flow" to some extent. If your contact goes off on a tangent because one of your questions especially interests him or her, enjoy the opportunity to travel down the new path and glean the additional information. Every informational interview is unique, and you can maximize the potential of each by staying receptive to the contact's interests and conversational preferences.

Remember, too, that you might have some information that would be valuable to your contact. Although you're there to learn from your interviewer, you may have the opportunity to share valuable information with your interviewer. Take advantage of it. A two-way dialogue gives you a chance to help your contact, and thus may cement your professional relationship and benefit you more than if you remain entirely on the receiving end of the information exchange.

Saying Goodbye

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If you've established a rapport with your interviewer and kept the conversation flowing, time will pass quickly. So keep an eye on the clock, and always let the contact know when twenty minutes have passed and it's time for you to leave. I've found that, often, the conversation is just getting started after twenty minutes. The contact might invite you to stay a bit longer, in which case, and you should. But if twenty minutes is all the time you get, that should still be long enough to ask your questions and accomplish your two final goals.

  • Your first goal is to establish rapport and ask for feedback on your presentation.
  • Find out what, from your interviewer's point of view, are your strengths and weaknesses. You can then modify your delivery for the next interview.
  • Your second goal is to walk away with the names of two or three other professionals that the interviewer feels comfortable referring you to for additional informational interviews.
If your interviewer is undecided about whom you should connect, ask whether you can check back in a day or two. Re-emphasize the Golden Rules of Networking, especially that you:
  • Won't ask anyone to whom you're referred for a job.
  • Simply want to get his or her perspective on how you might fit into the workplace.

If your contact wants to refer you to others who work in his or her company, all the better. You'll have a chance to see the organization from different vantage points and learn even more about it. If not, accept your contact's judgment about which referrals would be benefit you the most, and gratefully continue the networking process.

©Copyright 2008 Professionals In Transition Support Group, Inc.


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