Odalis
Odalis
  Salazar Mullins

How to Get the Best Results From an Informational Interview and Turn It Into a Lasting Relationship

 

 

There it is sitting in your inbox. Your heart starts beating a little faster out of excitement and fear. Excitement because they said yes and fear because what the hell are you supposed to do next? 

You’ve scored yourself an informational interview. You now have an opportunity to move your career and life forward. An opportunity to get:

  • Clarity on what career path to choose
  • Guidance on how to go after the jobs you want
  • Help with running past all other candidates and obstacles
  • Maybe even a job offer

But that was only part one. To get amazing results from an informational interview you have to put in the work. Yes, by setting up an informational interview you’re already setting yourself apart from most people. Most people never take an active role in building their career. But why stop at asking for the interview?

You’ve shown that you’re thinking at another level. That you’re willing to do more to get more. Why not back that up by taking it another step forward? Turn your informational interview into something more than a one-time career boost. Turn into the launching point for a new mentor, advocate, or friend.

You’re going to spend about 40 years of your life working. Why not build relationships that can help you succeed throughout? So take a moment to celebrate this victory on the road to something bigger.  

Now it’s time to get to work! Here’s what we’ll be covering:

DEFINING A CLEAR GOAL
RESEARCHING WHO YOU’RE INTERVIEWING
BUILDING YOUR QUESTION LIST
THE DAY BEFORE THE INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEW
THE DAY OF THE INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEW
FOLLOWING UP AFTER THE INTERVIEW  
BEING PART OF THE 1%

DEFINING A CLEAR GOAL

Let’s start with the purpose for this informational interview. You started this process with some king of goal in mind. Now’s the time to define it and write it down. 

Consider what you want out of this interview. Are you looking for an idea of what it’s really like to do a specific job? Or are you interested in finding out more about how to land certain opportunities? 

What’s one piece of information that will help move your career forward?

For example, let’s say you’re looking for a new job. You know that you want to do something in marketing, but you’re not 100% sure what. You know that there’s digital marketing, content marketing, SEO specialists, social media managers, and other seemingly infinite possibilities. You’ve done research online about the duties and responsibilities related to many of these positions. But a clear choice still isn’t obvious. So what’s going to help you narrow it down? Maybe you can talk to someone who’s been in many of these positions who can help you compare and contrast. 

 

RESEARCHING WHO YOU’RE INTERVIEWING 

With a clear goal established, it’s time to do some research on your interviewee. You want to research them so you don’t waste time during the interview asking questions about the basics. They can either  spend 5 minutes (of 20) going through all the companies they’ve worked for. Or they can spend those 5 minutes telling you about the skills and experiences that landed them the amazing opportunities they’ve had.

If you can find the answer with a Google search, don’t ask the question. 

You’ll want to look at their work history, their education, the projects they’ve worked on, articles or books they’ve published, etc. If it’s played a part in forming their career, make a note. Oh by the way, take notes! Whatever your preferred method for note taking is, please use it. Don’t let your memory failure keep you from having a great informational interview. 

Now take the information you’ve gathered and start piecing together their story. Understand the skills and experiences that make up their career. Make note of any questions that pop into your head while your reviewing your research. These will come in handy when you’re putting your question list together.

Ramit Sethi from I Will Teach You to Be Rich on the importance of research for your informational interview:

NOTE: These were not all the most socially smooth people. Some of them were downright socially awkward. Doesn’t matter! Sometimes, awkward can be endearing! Not everyone is Rico Suave. But the very best showed a remarkable level of preparation, which anyone can do — but few actually do.

 

BUILDING YOUR QUESTION LIST

It’s time to start putting together your question list for the interview. This list will help you ensure you get the information you need and avoid any awkward pauses. You’ll want to have about 10 questions on your list. You probably won’t get through that many in 20-30 minutes, but some people are more talkative than others.

When compiling your list, take into consideration your goal for this informational interview and what you’ve already learned about your interviewee. Here’s a list of sample questions courtesy of Samantha Tollin who writes for the Career Contessa:

  1. How did you get started in this industry?
  2. What responsibilities does your position entail?
  3. What kinds of decisions do you make?
  4. What are your favorite/least favorite aspects of your job?
  5. What are the most challenging/rewarding parts of your job?
  6. How did you find out about (company)?
  7. What is the company culture like?
  8. How/when is performance measured?
  9. What do you like most about the company?

You may also want to put together a second list of questions that are "more abstract” says Jennifer Winter from The Muse’s Skirts & Suits series.

In your abstract category, try less conventional questions like, “What’s your first thought when you get up for work every morning?” or “Who has been most influential in your career?” You don’t need to ask everything on both lists, but having a range of questions will allow you to mix up the conversation based on your interviewee’s reactions. For example, if she rolls her eyes at the “typical work day” question, skip ahead to something a bit less traditional and see how she responds.

On the flip side, Emma Miller at LearnVest put together a helpful list of the questions you want to avoid asking:

1. Can you tell me about your career path?
“This is the worst question,” says Adrian Granzella Larssen of career site The Muse. “If you ask something that you can easily find online, you’re wasting your time and that of the other person.”

2. What’s the scoop on that company controversy?
You’re trying to build a rapport during an informational interview, and this type of probing question can be a conversation stopper.

3. About how much do you make?
It’s natural to be curious, but this type of point-blank inquiry comes across as inappropriate and off-putting.

“When you ask what another person has in their bank account, it can feel like a violation of privacy,” says New York–based career counselor and executive coach Roy Cohen. “I can guarantee that the mood of the meeting will shift.”

4. Will you be my Facebook friend?
If you’re becoming fast friends, it’s a sign that the informational interview is going well—but it doesn’t mean you should send a Facebook request.

The employee may be reluctant to connect personally with someone who primarily wants to talk to him about his company, cautions Philip Blackett, founder of Magnetic Interviewing. Besides, he points out, if everyone who requested an informational interview Facebook friended him, it could become overwhelming.

Still, the most important question to avoid is asking for a job! This can quickly turn a great informational interview into an uncomfortable situation. So don’t do it.

Tip from Anne Fisher at Fortune: Since most informational interviews are short — often just 15 or 20 minutes — it’s smart to lead with what’s most relevant to your job search. Freiberger suggests bringing a list of questions in descending order of importance.

THE DAY BEFORE THE INTERVIEW

Here’s your checklist for the day before the interview.

1. Send your interviewee a quick email confirming your time and location (if you’re meeting in person) for the next day. Also, include a link to your LinkedIn profile or other online professional profile to give them a quick reminder of what you look like.

Bonus: If you are meeting for coffee, include a quick question in your email asking about what they prefer to drink. Then when you show up early the next day, you can go straight to getting them their coffee (or tea or juice, etc). That way you won't waste your limited time with this person waiting in line. Plus, they'll be impressed with your gesture.

2. Print out your questions or write them down in a notebook. You don’t want to be reading your questions from your phone because it will be too easy to get distracted with any alerts that might pop up.

3. Plan for how you will keep track of time during the interview. One way is to wear a watch suggests Jennifer Winter. "Regardless of how ubiquitous smartphones are these days, I still cringe when I see anyone in a professional setting glancing at her phone during a conversation.” 

If you don’t have a watch or don’t want to buy one, then try this smartphone option instead. Set up an alarm for 5 minutes before your interview time is up. Put your phone on silent but let it vibrate. And make sure that you have all notifications turned off or that Do Not Disturb is turned on (iPhone). That way your phone’s not vibrating every 30 seconds. 

Then the day of the interview you want to put your phone on the table face down. Let your interviewee know that it’s simply there to keep track of time and that they have your undivided attention. You could put the phone in your pocket, but I’ve found a lot of people won’t notice that it vibrates because they’re caught up in their conversation. When the phone vibrates on the table, both of you know right away that there’s 5 minutes left. 

4. If you’ve never been to the place where you’re meeting for your interview, then do a quick drive by. This will keep you from wasting time looking for it the next day. 

 

THE DAY OF THE INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEW

It’s time to make the magic happen.

If you’re meeting in person, be sure to arrive at least 10 minutes early for your meeting. If you’re meeting for coffee and you expect a long line at that time, you may want to get there even earlier. Regardless of how you’re meeting, be sure to take a few minutes before your interviewee arrives to review your notes on their career. 

When they arrive, stand up, smile, introduce yourself, and shake their hand. Then thank them for taking the time to meet with you. Let them know how much you appreciate this. Once everyone is seated and settled in, you can start by reminding them why you asked for this interview. Give them a quick overview of where you are in your career and what information you’re hoping to learn from this interview to help you move forward. Then let the conversation flow from there. If there’s a lull, use your question list to keep the conversation going.

And remember that you're human. As Kelsey Manning from Levo League puts it:

Yes, do your research. Yes, have insightful questions prepared beforehand. Emerge with new information that could help you. But remember that informational interviews are not Q&As. They are “feel me out and see what you think so maybe you’ll like me and be inclined to help in the future” meetings. What I’m saying is: Be friendly. Be casual, but not too casual. Compliment the person without it being obvious. Crack a joke for God’s sake.

If you’re looking for something more concrete than “let the conversation flow,” then take a look at the formula that Ramit Sethi has seen work well in the past:

They asked questions for 90% of the informational interview, interjecting insightful comments once in a while, showing that they’d done their homework. In the last 10%, they mentioned what they were working on and asked for advice. When they were especially impressive/likeable, I offered to introduce them to people I know, or outright offered to hire them.

Once there are 5 minutes left in the interview, you can start wrapping things up. Again, thank them for taking the time to meet with you. More importantly, point out to them one thing they shared that you already know is going to make a difference for you. This makes them feel good knowing that they have something worth sharing and that they weren’t wasting their time by agreeing to this interview. And because they feel good about themselves, they’ll like you better too.

 

FOLLOWING UP AFTER THE INTERVIEW

The way you follow up after your interview will decide whether this interview is a one-time helpful moment for your career. Or if this interview will lead to this person becoming a more permanent fixture in your career.

There are a lot of ways for following up after a meeting like this. But the best I’ve seen so far is Ramit Sethi’s Closing the Loop Technique. It’s the best for three reasons:

  1. It’s simple
  2. It focuses on their needs so they don’t feel taken advantage of
  3. It helps YOU stand out from the 99% of people who won’t do this

Here’s the main purpose of Ramit’s method:

A VIP wants to know that you listened to his advice and actually followed through.

Think about it: If I meet with someone, and they write back saying, “Hey Ramit, thanks for the time, and thanks especially for pointing out that [GENIUS POINT I MADE]. I took what you said and reached out to Beth Jones and Mike Smith and found out [AMAZING ACCOMPLISHMENT]. That helped me get a $3,000 raise and also get Fridays off”…

The truth is, busy people are desperate to mentor and help other people who are going to take action. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people will not follow up on what busy people say.

So you’ll give these people what they need (and set yourself apart in the process) by following up with 3 emails:

1. Thank You (same day)

Hi Steve,

Just wanted to thank you again for meeting with me earlier. I’m definitely going to get in touch with Susan like you recommended. I’ll keep you in the loop, and of course, please let me know if there’s anything I can do to repay the favor!

John

[RAMIT’S ANALYSIS: Notice the simple thank you, but also a reference to a specific action item you’re going to follow up on (showing you were paying attention during the meeting/call). This email ends with a friendly offer to help and asks nothing of the VIP.]

2. Add Value (1-2 weeks later)

Hey Steve,

Saw this article in the Wall Street Journal and it reminded me of what you said about productivity tests! No response needed, just thought you might find it interesting.

John

[RAMIT’S ANALYSIS: This email is where things start to get surprising. The VIP likely didn’t expect to hear back from you, since almost nobody follows up beyond one email. In this email, you’re sending a valuable piece of material — an article, blog post, photo, whatever — of something you KNOW he will find interesting.

How do you know what he’ll find interesting? Because during your meeting, you listened and took careful notes.

Finally, pay close attention to the phrase used in the last sentence: “No response needed.” This is music to a busy person’s ears. Think about it: I get 600+ emails/day, and do you know what most of them want? They want something from me. When you can say “No response needed,” and send me something I find fascinating, you’re adding value to my life.]

3. Close the Loop (2-3 weeks later)

Hi Steve,

Wanted to give you an update: I did end up talking to Susan, and you were right — Acme is definitely a fit for me. I’m reaching out to a friend there to learn all I can about Acme before I apply. If there’s anyone else you think I should speak to, please let me know.

Thanks again! I’ll let you know how it goes.

John

[RAMIT’S ANALYSIS: Here, you show the VIP that you actually took action on what he suggested. This will instantly differentiate you from 99% of people. Notice you name specific names, let him know if he was right (or even if you chose something different than his recommendation).]

 

BEING PART OF THE 1%

We covered a lot in this guide to get you the best results from your informational interview. And how to keep it going long after the interview’s done. Yes, it’s going to take work. But if you want those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, you need to put in the work. If you want to have a career you actually enjoy, you need to put in the work. 

Don’t be part of the 99%. Don’t be the person that wakes up in the morning and hates their life. Because if your job sucks, your life will be affected. You can’t help that. But you can do something about the job you have. About the career you have. Be a part of the 1% and make your career (and life) the best it can be.

What’s the number one thing you’re hoping to learn from your informational interview?