How to Have Effective Informational Interviews

Today on the podcast I’m revisiting one of blog posts I’m constantly referring folks to that’s all about how to have effective networking meetings that don’t waste each other’s time. I want to revisit how this applies specifically to folks who are seeking out informational interviews as a part of their job search strategy because, well, it’s a GREAT strategy!

This Tuesday on the podcast, I spoke with Becky Bush of The Typical Twenty Something blog all about how to write your resume and cover letter for the modern job search, and she and I couldn’t help but bring up this solid job-seeker advice: you MUST pursue informational interviews! This is one of the best ways to land internal referrals (another key job search strategy) and it can make or break your application.

Here are 5 steps to effective informational interviews:

1. Lead with your story

Explain who you are and WHY what you’re doing matters to you.

Why do you care? Why should I care? What is the underlying motivation that drives you each day? What’s your history and why did it lead you here?

Now this is a conversation, obviously, not a soliloquy, so you’re going to want to keep it brief, but keep in mind that people aren’t moved by what you’re doing, they get on board when they understand why you’re doing it.

Through sharing your personal story, demonstrate your values by explaining the choices you’ve made along the way. Why did you quit that job? Move to that city? Focus on that subject matter? What drew you to this meeting today?

This is your “story of self,” as organizers call it. It’s a motivating way to share who you are and what you care about.

2. Find out what makes them tick

Just as it’s important that you share your underlying why behind the what that you do, you must figure out the underlying motivations of the person you’re sharing coffee with.

Ask-opened ended ‘why’ questions to get a sense of where they’re coming from and what choices they made along the way to land where they are now. Remain open, curious, and non-judgmental about what makes them do what they do.

The goal here is to find what common values you share – it’s that foundation of shared values that serves as the jumping-off point for collaboration.

3. Aim for the “Magic X”

The Magic X is the the intersection between your shared values and diverse resources. Once you’ve both shared the why behind the what you do,” the next step is to identify what unique resources you both bring to the table that can help further your shared values.

What do you have to share? Time? Energy? Resources? Connections? People-power?

And what are you in need of to move forward? Money? Job leads? Mentors? Negotiation help? A resume review?

What resources does the person you’re meeting with have that you lack?

Odds are, you’ve already done a good deal of thinking about this before asking them meet, but now’s the time to remain flexible and open to resources that you can uncover through conversation that you may not have learned about by stalking them on LinkedIn.

4. Make a clear ask

Once you’ve identified what resources you both bring to the table, ask for the specific help you need and want.

By this point in the conversation, you’ve already explained your motivations and hopefully bonded with the person about your shared values. So now is the time to offer up an opportunity to take action on those shared values.

Will you help me get introduced to the hiring managers at your company?

Will you co-host this event with me on the 30th?

Will you commit to bringing in 5 of your friends to our program?

Will you build this / write this / do this with me?

If the answer is “yes” or “maybe,” get specific about when, where and how you propose moving forward.

If the answer is in the negative, ask an open-ended question about how they suggest you proceed. You’d be surprised how many folks will offer up another way they can help or suggest you move forward.

Then – and this is key – offer up your own resources or assistance in helping them in return in furthering whatever goals or objectives you uncovered through your conversation. If you can’t think of anything concrete at the moment you can always say something like this:

Please let me know if I can ever be of assistance to you as well.

Wrap things up with gratitude and paint a clear picture of what is to come next.

5. Follow up

No matter how flawless your 1-on-1 meeting game is, the real magic is in the follow-up.

Send a timely (read: within 24 hours) email thanking them again for their time and delivering on any of what you promised you’d send along. Set clear expectations of how you’d like to move forward and send them any materials needed to do so.

Remember, this is just the start of an ongoing relationship. Keep in touch with these contacts even after they’re done helping you along your way. Invite them to events you’re heading to, share articles you think they’d find interesting, and just feel free to drop them a casual note of appreciation when you’re thinking about them.

Network your way through your job search

Making 1-on-1 meetings a priority can be an incredibly effective strategy for advancing your career and all kinds of goals you’re pursuing. But how you conduct them is just as important.

By building authentic, reciprocal relationships, you’ll ensure that you’re growing your community, your power, and your knowledge base alongside people who share your values and want to see you succeed as much as you’re cheering them on in return.

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