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Informational Interviews

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How do I set up an informational interview? (Cont.)

This whole process of contacting interviewees might make you a little nervous. If you're new to the working world and low on the totem pole, calling up a business executive can be a little frightening. You may be especially hesitant, because you feel like you have nothing to offer in return for that executive's time.

Relax! Most successful members of the working world have an intimate understanding of the networking system. They know that when they were inexperienced, seasoned professionals helped them out.

Now that they're the high-level executives, they'll talk to you at a business conference or grant you a 30-minute meeting—with the understanding that when you're a big shot, you'll take a few minutes out of a busy day to advise a newcomer about your line of work.

If that answer doesn't calm you, remember that most people love talking about themselves and relish the experience of feeling like an important expert in their field.

How do I prepare for an informational interview?

It's impossible to overvalue the importance of preparing for your informational interview. The more research you've done about the interviewee's background, accomplishments, line of work, company, and current projects, the better the conversation will be. If you impress the interviewee with your preparation, he or she will be much more inclined to help you and take you seriously.

Spend some time looking at the Web site of the company where the interviewee works. Read articles about current issues in the interviewee's line of work, about the company itself, and about the interviewee. Then, make a list of questions.

It maybe helpful to put your questions in order of priority so that if you run out of time, you will have addressed the most important issues. Your questions might address lifestyle, education, daily tasks, the future of the interviewee's industry, office culture, and what the interviewee might do differently if he or she could do something over again. Just remember it's inappropriate to ask personal questions—conduct a professional exchange instead.

How do I conduct an informational interview? 

You've made a contact with someone and they've agreed to meet with you in person. Though you shouldn't grovel at the sight of your networking contact, be considerate and appreciative of his or her time. Your face-to-face meeting should last no longer than you promised it would (20 or 30 minutes), and your conversation should follow a specific sequence.

Begin by introducing yourself and stating the reason for the meeting. This should lead directly into an explanation of how your new contact might be able to help you out. Next, briefly explain your background so that you contact can put your questions and requests in an appropriate context. The next step is to ask your specific, prepared questions.

However, your prepared inquiries shouldn't keep you from asking relevant questions that you think of during the meeting. Part of having a good exchange is reacting to and listening to your contact, and this means, in some cases, that your conversation will go down a different path than the one you originally intended.

Then, at the end of the meeting, ask for two or three names of others who might be helpful to you. Be sure to ask your contact if you can use his or her name when you contact the referrals. End the meeting with the door open for future contact.

How do I follow up after an informational interview?

Always send a thank you letter to the interviewee. Mention specific aspects of the conversation that you found helpful, and acknowledge the interviewee's generosity in speaking with you. Make a point to keep in touch with the interviewee after your conversation with him or her. For example, if you get a job, let him or her know of your progress.

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