In Canada, an “Informational Interview” is a popular term, together with “Networking” and “Hidden Job”. We, as immigrants agree that there are things that we need to work on in order to get integrated into the labour market. Conducting informational interviews is exactly the way to fill the gap.
Nonetheless, an over-discussed term often ends up generating anxiety because it could become deified. I used to be confused by this term, but I and many of my peer immigrants have come to understand it in the end. Now, let’s unveil the mystery and simplify it. An information interview is just one of those meetings with someone whose experience interests you. What do you do if you want to get to know someone more? Ask this person out! Voila!
Tip 1. Generate mutual interest.
I have exchanged ideas many times with my peer immigrants about the best approach to ask for an information interview. And I conclude the best strategy is to set the bait and appear harmless.
Just imagine someone walking by suddenly tweaks your nose out of the blue. Asking for a meeting from nowhere could be just as annoying to the another person.
Mention why, among the whole world, you want just to talk with this person in particular. What is it about his/her experience that has inspired you, what common interests do you hold, etc. Then propose a meeting and explain your objectives so that he/she knows what’s going to happen. Leave it to them to decide if it’s in your mutual interest.
Tip 2. Have a goal.
Conversations can’t really be predicted. You may know a person’s experience from LinkedIn but you don’t know what type of social animal he/she is. So in preparation, what matters to me most is the goal. As long as I’m well aware of what I want to get out of the meeting, I’ll let the conversation go with the flow. If the meeting doesn’t seem to lead to any business opportunity or immediate referral, I’ll see if it’s possible to simply start a friendship. In the end, I always make sure the other person recognizes what career I want to pursue, and that they are convinced that I can succeed in this field so that he/she can refer me once they have any contacts.
Tip 3. Don’t use the term “Informational Interview” unless you are sure the other person is an expert in giving informational interviews.
Although now you know, I know, and we assume everyone knows, ironically I found out the fact that a lot of Canadians, especially those who haven’t been searching for a job for a while, have never heard of the term “Informational Interview” even if they do meet people and ask for information.
This is tricky. Because when you mention an informational interview to those that are familiar with the term, you may easily get help without much effort. For others however, the term could raise a red flag. People may not want to reply to your request simply because they are afraid of being put into an unfamiliar and potentially uncomfortable situation. Employ casual chat, meetings, discussion etc. instead.
Tip 4. Cheer them up! Don’t win them over.
The very first time that I planned to conduct an “effective” interview, I prepared all night long and came up with 20 questions. I fired all of the bullets like a cowboy and even added one or two questions since I assumed I should lead the interview. Anyway when I tried to follow up after the meeting, I never heard back.
It wasn’t until one year later that I started to pity my poor first victim interviewee. I didn’t even give him a chance to talk. I can’t even recall what person he is outside of his job role.
It’s really about a conversation not an interrogation! Look at presidential campaigns, watch PR events, or remind yourself in front of any interview, even with dates. Happy endings always happen in a relaxed environment.
And especially in this particular case, you really don’t want to push your interviewee because if this person is spending time sitting with you, it means he/she is already ready to help. Thus, you are in the position to make the interviewee comfortable, inspire and encourage him/her to talk, share information and think for you so that you might get results that are even beyond your expectation.
Tip 5. Quantity to Quality.
If you don’t get a positive response right away, it’s ok. Hello goodbye, continue the path with or without a rose. Similar to a sales job, unfortunately not everyone likes your product but luckily there are so many potential buyers. Many times when you conduct the information interviews, you find out more precisely what you want and what you don’t want. Again, the more leads you generate, the closer you are to your goal.
And on top of it, don’t forget to add these proactive strategic relationship building skills to your resume. Can’t wait to hear your good news!
Guest Blogger, Elaine Ruijuan Li, Sales & Marketing Professional, with an Education Specialty