064: 4 Common Mistakes Made in the Informational Interview [Podcast]

Most people go after a new job the way we have always done it. They find an advertised opening, send a resume, and wait. They might also throw in a few job fairs. The end result is that they end up talking to HR, if anyone at all. This is a entirely frustrating and even humiliating experience for most of us. But, some have found ways to pierce behind the veil of job ads and HR using tools such as informational interviews. (I have been known to also call these reverse interviews). But the problem is, most people show signs of desperation in their attempt at an informational interview, and basically get pushed back into the HR pile.

mistakes made when requesting informational interview

Courtesy of Flickr/Creative Commons | Eli Christman

 

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What is an Informational Interview?

In the purest sense, an informational interview is not really an interview at all. Instead, it is a learning experience. I would call them strategic networking instead. The goal is to learn about an industry, company, or person so that you can discern a few key things:

  • Does this industry or company seem like a good fit for me?
  • What skills might I need to acquire?
  • What are the big issues in this industry? This company?
  • What is the future of this industry? This company?
  • Who else should I be networking with in this industry or company?
As you can tell from this list, it has nothing to do with a job. Instead, you are trying to learn something. Most often informational interviews are used when people want to break into something new, are in a new city, or want to learn how to expand their view of their own industry.

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How to Request an Informational Interview

To request an informational interview, you need to do these steps:

  • What is it that seems interesting to me? What industry, company, or career field? If you do not know the how of this, go through the exercise How to Find Your Calling below.
  • Who is doing it now and doing it successfully?
  • Who do I know that knows them?

Once you know the person, request a meeting with them either in person or over the phone so that you can ask them some questions. Even though I am calling this an informational interview, I would NEVER use those words when requesting a meeting. Instead, tell them you are trying to learn about the industry or the company and would like to get their perspective.

I will cover in detail how to ask for such meetings and even what to do in the meeting in my online course Networking for Introverts.

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4 Common Mistakes People Make in an Informational Interview Request

I have advised thousands to connect with people and find opportunities with informational interviews or strategic networking. Yet, over and over I see blunders made. Most of these are made because the one requesting an interview cannot get their head out of doing things the same way they have always done them. They want to reach out and get a job interview. That is one of the reasons I hate the term informational interview – but that is what people call it.

To make it clear, here is an email that represents the typical WRONG approach.

Hi John,

Sam Smith suggested I contact you  for an informational interview. I’m very interested in working in your industry and for your company in particular. I would like to get a few minutes of your time to ask you some questions. I’ve attached my resume so you can learn about my background. Thanks for your time and your help. I have been out of work for about 3 months now and really need to make some things happen. Looking forward to hearing back.

Jeff

Do you see any mistakes in that email? If not, look below for the common blunders then come back to the email.

1. You look and talk like you are looking for a job

The email above is way too typical. Starts out well but then I can begin to smell desperation. This person is clearly not looking for perspective, but instead sound like they will be ready to start working on Monday.

Other signs that you are looking for a job are your dress and your mannerisms. You come in dressed as if you are in an interview and you act as if you are in an interview. Sure, you need to dress appropriately, but do not overdo it as you might for an actual interview.

2. You are talking to Human Resources (HR)

Another fatal mistake people make is talking to HR. You will often be directed to HR when you smell like you are looking for a job. So avoid at all cost talking to HR unless you want to work in HR. They cannot help you!

If you hit a company gatekeeper when trying to get to the person you want to meet with and they try to send you to HR, remind them you are not looking for a job but want to learn something from the person you are trying to reach. I did this one time and the secretary was going to send me to HR. I told her that I was not looking for a job, but was looking for the perspective from an engineer in our industry who was managing a large R&D outfit. Clearly the only person that fit that bill was the vice president of engineering at her firm. I got the time to meet with him.

3. Send or bring a resume

Never, never, never bring your resume or send it in the email before or after the meeting. They do not need your resume anyway because you are there to learn about them and their company or industry, not to talk about you. If anything on your resume needs to be discussed, they do not need the resume, they have you.

4. You talk about yourself

The purpose of this meeting is to learn. Not to sell yourself. Not to give your life history. Not to tell your sob stories (like in the email above). The purpose is for you to ask questions and learn. So if you are talking about yourself and your experience too much, then you blew it.

 

The main issue going in, is that people think of this as an interview. It is not! It is you trying to learn from others. Can it open doors? Yes. Can it lead to a job offer or an actual interview? Yes. But this meeting should not be stressful or about you being on your A-game. Get your head around that and it will help you be relaxed and remove any sense of desperation.

Question: Have you ever done an informational interview? What happened? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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How to Find Your Calling

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Question: Ever done an informational interview? What happened? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

 

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2 thoughts on “064: 4 Common Mistakes Made in the Informational Interview [Podcast]

  1. Nice post Dale. I haven’t looked for a job in a really long time but I have had several people ask me for an informational interview and I always grant them. On the other hand when people have sent emails looking for a job… delete. It’s a great technique and I wish I had understood it back in the day when I was looking for a job.