How To Rock An Informational Interview

flickr: rogerimp

There’s still no better way to build your network than to ask for — and then conduct — informational interviews.

Remember, you can’t ask for a job at one of these. It’s a short meeting, preferably one where you buy your source a cup of coffee as thanks, where you have an opportunity to learn about a specific company, find out about the culture, and make connections for later.

PRDaily compiled six steps to a successful one here. Here’s our annotated version:

  • Avoid the ‘cold call.’ If at all possible, find an “in” with the company through a mutual connection. LinkedIn and Twitter are great for this, of course, but don’t neglect your school’s alumni association, members of professional groups you belong to, and friends. But if you absolutely have to cold-call someone, find a common point to connect on. (“Hey, I saw on your LinkedIn profile that you work at a PR agency I’m interested in…and we’re both marathoners!”)
  • Plan carefully. The person with whom you’re meeting is probably taking time out of a busy day, so try to be flexible. Respectful, too. If you can come to them (because you’re unemployed and have the time), do so.
  • Care about more than just job openings. Good questions to ask include “How did you get your job at the company?” as well as what skills your interviewee developed in school or in previous jobs that helped land them their current gig. It’s also a good idea to…
  • ask about culture. If you want a fun work environment where your coworkers blow off steam playing air hockey in the break room, you’ll want to learn that your so-called dream company is lined with dreary cubes before you go to the trouble of applying. Similarly, if you can get a feel for the work-life balance, dress code, and other cultural norms and you do get an interview, you have inside information about how to present yourself.
  • Determine next steps. Like what you hear? Ask if the person you meet with would be willing to give you a tour of the office, introduce you to other colleagues, or refer you to HR. But obviously, don’t be pushy. And no matter what, make sure to thank your interviewee for his or her time.
  • Follow up. If you promised to send a résumé, email a colleague, or perform any other follow-up, do so quickly. And don’t forget to stay in touch. Here’s something we published for freelancers nurturing leads, but also applies to people seeking full-time work. Since you’ve already gone to the trouble to make this connection, don’t let it wither by forgetting all about it!