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10 Ways to Make the Most of an Informational Interview

By Caroline M.L. Potter, Yahoo! HotJobs

Don’t have any prospects for a job interview? Try setting up someinformational interviews. A great way to grow your network and gain knowledge, informational interviews can be a gateway to your next professional opportunity. Use these tips to maximize their potential and drive your career forward.

Don’t Push

Jason Seiden, the author of How to Self-Destruct: Making the Least of What’s Left of Your Career, advises professionals to make sure the prospect is open to the notion of an informational interview. “My advice is not to pursue people who aren’t interested,” he says. “It’s like the same rule from referrals or college recommendations. If you have to ask twice, abort.”

Go in with Goals

Be sure to stick to your agenda. “The job seeker has specific goals, which may be to get a realistic assessment of the market and/or the job seeker’s qualifications for the currently available positions, or names of hiring managers, or tips on which professional associations to contact regarding meetings or job banks,” says Linda Carlson, a Seattle-based author and marketing consultant.  

Connect Quickly

“The key to a successful informational interview is establishing a human connection and mutual interest quickly,” says Nancy Ancowitz, a business communication coach in New York City. “The more the job seeker does her homework by researching the company and the interviewer, shows gratitude and expresses genuine interest, the better.”

Be Genuine

Career-changer Charlene McNary, who blogs about her job search and has been on several successful informational interviews, stresses the importance of asking for information, not jobs. “If you focus on just looking for jobs, the person you’re interviewing will feel used, and you’ll get nowhere,” she says.

Mind Your Manners

Based on a few negative experiences from granting informational interviews, Carlson states, “The job seeker must be professional, courteous and appreciative of any help provided and pick up the check for coffee, lunch or breakfast, etc.” Don’t ask your interviewer to pay for — or even split — a check.

Reap References

“When job seekers go on informational interviews, they should request referrals from the interviewer for additional people who may be willing to meet with them,” says Sharon Reed Abboud, a career strategist and author of All Moms Work: Short-Term Career Strategies for Long-Range Success. “Then, they should meet with those people and request additional referrals. It is not a waste of time. Even if they do not receive a job tip, the job seeker’s network will expand outwards like a web.”

Keep Time on Your Mind

Job search mentor Roberta Chinsky Matuson urges interviewees to mind the time. “If you ask for 15 minutes, then that is all you should expect,” she says. “If it appears you are running over, inform the person that it looks like your time is just about up. If need be, ask for permission to ask one more question — and wait until permission is granted before doing so.”

Location, Location, Location

While some folks may request an out-of-office chat, Duncan Mathison, speaker and co-author of Unlock the Hidden Job Market, says in-office settings are usually better for informational meetings. “Lunch or coffee is expensive for tight budgets and the setting is often noisy and distracting,” he says. “In addition, the person with whom you are interviewing will be closer to their important information in their office — company information, contacts, their computer to send introductory emails and so forth.”

Offer Up a Helping Hand

Career expert Barbara Safani, author of Happy About My Resume: 50 Tips for Building a Better Document to Secure a Brighter Future, advises job seekers to ask if there is anything they can help the other person with. “This deepens the relationship and makes the conversation less about them,” she says. “When there is reciprocity and a genuine effort to help each other, the job seeker is less likely to come across as desperate.”

Show Your Gratitude

“Soon after the interview, be gracious and send a 
thank-you note to the interviewer and, if applicable, the person who connected the two of you,” Ancowitz adds. “Also, remind yourself that it’s important to have many irons in the fire when looking for a job, and this is just one of them.

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