While you may think that the best way to conduct your job search is to respond to a job ad by submitting your resume and a cover letter, the reality is that many of the best work opportunities are never advertised. In fact, some experts estimate that nearly 80 percent of the job market is made up of these 'hidden' jobs.
So how can you tap into these off-the-radar roles?
Informational interviews and networking are two of the most effective ways to secure these kinds of coveted positions.
What Is An Informational Interview ― And Why Should I Care?
An informational interview is an underutilized strategy in the job search process and typically comes about because of successful networking opportunities. Often suggested by college career counselors, these provide you with an opportunity to find out specific information about a particular industry or role you're interested in from someone who's already established in that field. It gives you a chance to ask questions about the person's role, the company, and the industry in general. It's a way to test the waters before jumping in with both feet.
As far as who to approach, there are a few ways to do it:
- Contact someone you already know. This is the most common way to network and set up an interview. Even if there are a few degrees of separation, it never hurts to reach out and ask family or friends if they know anyone who could help.
- Send a cold outreach email. This is less common but can be successful if it's done correctly. Reaching out via LinkedIn or your college's alumni network, for instance, can be an effective way to make contact.
Writing an Informational Interview Email Request
The best informational interview request emails have two things: a clear message about why you're reaching out and an easy-to-understand request. When asking for an informational interview, be sure to include these components:
- Ask for help. Phrases like "I'd love your help with" or "I hope you'll be able to help me out with…"
- Be clear and concise. Be specific and make it easy for them to say yes. "I'd love to hear more about how you got your start" is alright, but this approach is better: "I'd love to take you out to coffee to learn about how you got your start in marketing and what it's like to work at [your company]; I'm actually going to be in your area next week and would be happy to meet whenever is most convenient for you."
- Provide a hook. Demonstrate why you really want to meet with this person. Maybe you admire their career path or see some similarities between their education and yours? Perhaps you have a shared connection? Whatever it is, be sure to state it in the email.
- Be extremely considerate. Remember, this person is putting their job on hold for you, so acknowledge how busy they must be and say that even 15-20 minutes would be appreciated.
- Don't make it seem like you're looking for a job. Make it clear you just want to talk to them about their perspective on their job and experience in the industry.
Best Practices for Informational Interviews
Before the Interview
- Prepare a list of specific questions: These should be related to the field, role, or company. Don't expect the person you're meeting with to lead or steer the conversation. It's your job to figure out exactly what you want to ask.
- Organize your questions: Instead of a laundry list of questions that have no particular order, sort them by category. Suggestions for groupings include:
- The industry/field in general
- Company culture
- Their specific role and what it involves
- Work/life balance
During the Interview
- Break the ice. People generally enjoy talking about themselves, so when you first sit down, get the conversation moving by asking questions about their personal experiences in the field thus far. Examples include:
- How did you get your start in this field?
- What's it like working at your company?
- What projects are you currently working on?
- What's your opinion on [insert a recent development in the industry]?
- How did you come to choose this company over others in this field?
- What is the most rewarding thing about working in the industry? The most challenging?
- My background is in [insert experience here]. How do you think I can best leverage my experience in this field?
- I'm waiting to hear back about interviews for positions. What advice would you give me about how to best prepare?
- What experiences and skills does your company look for in new hires?
- What job search advice would you give to someone in my situation?
If you're a bit further along in the interviewing process, you may want to ask more specific questions related to new hires:
After the Interview
Make sure to follow up. Send a handwritten thank you note or an email and be specific. Mention something from your conversation that was memorable or that you truly learned from them. Thank them again for taking the time to meet with you, and if they asked you for your resume, be sure to attach an updated, relevant version. When done correctly, it can provide a path to help move the relationship forward.
Writing a Follow-Up Email After an Informational Interview
Remember, you want to be as specific as possible when writing a follow-up email. Avoid standard statements of "I learned a lot from you. Thank you for taking the time to meet with me" and start by recalling bits of your conversation. Here's an example:
Hi [insert name],
Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today. I enjoyed talking to you about your experience in [career field] and certainly learned a lot from what you had to say. I appreciate all the insights you provided and descriptions of the challenges you're facing.
You mentioned that your team at [company name] is looking to ramp up your content marketing efforts. I'd love to help your team strategize and contribute toward increasing your blog traffic.
I've attached a PDF with some ideas I have for your company's strategy, including:
[Place list of ideas here: it might include keyword suggestions, other strategies for boosting SEO, etc]
Take a look, and if you're interested, I'd love to get on a call with you anytime next week and discuss how I can help.
Informational interviews are a great way to go above and beyond customary job searching procedures. When you follow these best practices for planning, conducting, and following up after an informational interview, you can gain valuable insight and information that can help you plot out a career path that's suitable for your skills, experience, and interests.
The Quintessential Careers Informational Interviewing Tutorial is organized in the following manner:
- What are informational interviews — and why should I do them?
- Background Information About Informational Interviews
- Reasons for Conducting Informational Interviews
- Guidelines for Informational Interviews
- Identify an Occupation for Informational Interviews
- Identify People to Interview for Informational Interviews
- Scheduling the Informational Interview
- Informational Interview Letter
- Sample Letter Requesting an Informational Interview
- Requesting an Informational Interview in Person or by Phone
- Questions to Ask at the Informational Interview
- Informational Interviewing: 200 Informational Interview Sample Questions
- 75 Informational Interview Questions
- Additional Informational Interview Questions
- Informational Interviewing Do's and Don'ts
- Ask for Referrals at the Informational Interview
- Always Send a Thank You After Informational Interviews
- Informational Interviewing: A Powerful Networking and Career Tool for College Students
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