5 Tips to Ace Your Next Information Interview

I'm always a little surprised when a client isn't familiar with the term information interview.  In a time when networking is the best way to find your next career, the information interview is an effective tool to deepen your system of contacts.  

An information interview is a meeting initiated by a job seeker with someone established in a particular field.  The purpose is to gain more insight into a desired career path or a company you want to work for one day, and to develop a contact within a chosen industry.  

There is an art and a science to a good information interview.  While the job seeker is often a person who is currently looking for work, he or she must set that aside and focus on gathering career building tips that may help him or her learn of career opportunities.  It is also a chance to make a favourable impression with someone in his or her field who might one day make a referral or remember the job seeker when there is an open position at his or her company.   While every job seeker dreams someone will say "you're just what I've been looking for - you're hired", this is not likely to happen.

Here are 5 tips to make your first or your next information interview a successful one:

  1. Prepare.  Before even making the call to a contact, identify what information you are hoping to get from this encounter.  Create 4-5 intelligent and thoughtful questions that will achieve those goals.  Some examples include, What education and experience do you recommend for an entry level position in this field?  What skills and characteristics are needed to build a successful career in this field? What do you enjoy most about your job?  What is your greatest challenge?  What trends do you see in the industry?  What is the employment outlook in this field?  When your company has a job opening, where is it posted?  Who else in this field would you recommend I speak to?
  2. Know yourself.  This is a chance for you to make a positive first impression. You will need to be able to introduce yourself and speak to your passion for this field in a succinct and eloquent manner.  Draft 3-4 key talking points that reflect information and personal characteristics that you want to convey.  Remember, there is always a chance you will meet this person again in your career.
  3. Show respect.  If you have asked for 20 minutes of someone's time, don't take 60.  Monitor the clock and acknowledge when you've reached the agreed upon time.  Listen openly and with curiosity.  Dress to impress and bring a tablet or notepad to record information.  If you meet at a coffee shop, pick up the tab.
  4. Give thanks.  End the meeting with a handshake and a verbal thank you.  Send an email or letter to thank the person a second time.  If you have agreed to share a resource or if they have offered to connect you with others, be sure to follow through.  This is an indicator of your personal accountability.  
  5. Pay it forward.  As you build your career, remember all of those people who assisted you when you were starting out.  Stay in touch and not just when you're looking for a job.  Not too long from now, you may have information to share with your contacts.  Do so.  While we can never truly pay back our mentors we honour them by our actions. When you get the chance, accept an invitation for an information interview from a job seeker. 

Information interviews are a proactive way to develop your network and build your career. The people you meet along the way may become great professional allies and may lead you to your next job.