Every now and then, proactive job seeking methods and effective networking can result in an “informational interview”—an interview that’s not for a specific job, but rather, for the purpose of learning more about the company, the person interviewing you, and the industry as a whole. While some may be hesitant to spend time on an interview that offers no possibility of employment, it’s important to take every interviewing opportunity possible, for the sake of both making new connections and practicing for important interviews in the future.
In fact, the opportunities present in an informational interview can be endless if the interview is approached correctly. Candidates can learn a great deal about the job market in their industry, get general career guidance and advice for their job search, and forge new connections for future opportunities, amongst other things. The success of your informational interview relies on preparation, however—so if you find one on your calendar in the near future, consider these 5 steps before setting off for the meeting:
- Don’t cut corners. There may not be a job on the table, but that’s no reason to let your professionalism slip. It’s still an interview, so be sure to dress professionally, arrive early, and treat everyone with respect. You never know if an opportunity with this company might open up in the future, and if you don’t make a good first impression, you won’t come to mind as a potential candidate.
- Know your boundaries. If it’s established up front that your interview is purely informational—which, in many cases, it is—don’t ask for a job when you meet. This is a waste of both your time and the interviewer’s, and the interviewer will likely feel as if you haven’t paid attention to your correspondence. The time you spend on this dead end can be better spent, so focus instead on what you are likely to gain from the meeting, such as a meaningful and helpful professional connection.
- Bring your documents. If the interviewer is feeling generous, they may be willing to give your resume a critique from the perspective of a hiring manager in the field. Furthermore, they may not have a specific job to offer you, but could know someone who’s in the market for a new hire. Always be sure to bring your resume and any relevant portfolio pieces in a neat and orderly fashion, and bring extra copies to leave with the interviewer if asked to.
- Come prepared with questions. Unlike traditional interviews, informational ones don’t always have a clear objective. Your interviewer may or may not have conducted one before, and they certainly don’t always know what you’re looking to get out of it, so have a goal and develop questions that can help you work toward it. For example, are you looking to get critique and improve upon yourself as a job seeker? Are you looking to better understand your industry’s needs, or maybe hoping to make new connections? Even if all of these options apply to you, the only way to make your time with the interviewer useful is to give it direction.
- Follow up. Like any other interview, it’s good practice to follow up an informational meeting with a thank-you note. Write clearly and professionally, and thank the interviewer for their time—this part is especially important since they have invited you to this meeting strictly for your benefit. If you discussed further potential connections or opportunities, be sure to attach your resume in a versatile document format (like .doc) so it can easily be passed on.
Ultimately, informational interviews are networking at its finest. By following these few simple steps and knowing what makes an informational interview similar to and different from a traditional one, you’ll be better positioned for success—whatever your ultimate goal is.