Three major ingredients in the recipe to a successful job search are networking, visibility, and research. These three, while all each integral to job searching (and finding) on their own merit, all tie in together when it comes to interviewing: when going on an interview, one conducts research prior, makes connections during, and achieves greater visibility through those connections after. That’s why we’ve suggested that going on every interview you’re offered, even those you’re unsure of, is usually a good idea—at the very least, you get practice, if not a pleasant surprise. But what if you knew there was no opportunity with a company beyond the networking perks of an interview? If you were invited to an exploratory, or informational, interview, would you take it?
Why You Should
You may think the only goal of an interview is to land a job, but that’s not always the case. If you’re invited to an exploratory interview, or see an opportunity to acquire one, go for it! It may be that an employer sees you as a potential fit for a position that is now filled, and wants to keep you in mind for future opportunities. In many cases, informational interviews could very well lead to such jobs down the line—or, at minimum, connections who can enrich your professional network.
Any interview you go on gives you the opportunity to stand out in that employer’s mind as a potential candidate, whether the interview is for a particular position or not. As a result, if you present yourself professionally and adequately as a valuable possible addition to the company, you may very well be at the top of the list of candidates to call for future opportunities. The interviewing process takes quite a while, and because of this, most employers will call impressive candidates they’ve interviewed with in the past before going through incoming resumes and setting up extra interviews with first-time applicants.
What to Expect
So the pros outweigh the cons, and you decide to take on your first informational interview. What now? Informational interviews are a lot like regular interviews, only less focused on a particular position and more focused on what you can offer to the company and/or your industry as a whole. This is an excellent opportunity to really sell yourself as a professional, as you’re not limited to the confines of one position. Of course, you should keep your discussion focused and on-track, but be sure to highlight your best attributes and work experience to give the interviewer a good idea of the well-rounded professional you are.
When on an exploratory interview, you may find that the discussion is more like a conversation than a question-and-answer session. This is a great way not only to let your true personality shine through, but to get to know the interviewer and the company culture he or she reflects. In addition, you could very well make a great connection if things go well, and he or she may just lead you to opportunities in the future.
What to Remember
You aren’t there to get a job. No matter how much an interviewer likes you, there will be times when there is simply no wiggle room for extra hiring in a company, and the hiring manager has no sway in that. So, to make the most out of your time together, focus instead on discussing the industry and getting to know your interviewer as a person and a professional. Much like in other forms of networking, looking only to gain from the interaction will often work against you; the informational interview is usually a favor someone is doing for you, and should be treated as such.
So, finally, make sure you follow up and say thank you, just as you would in any other interview. Emphasize that you appreciate them taking time out of their day to have a conversation with you and that you hope to hear from them in the future. Then be sure to stay in touch! Handled with care, a new connection forged by an informational interview can be an excellent, mutually-beneficial business relationship.