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Don’t Do These 10 Things in an Informational Interview

Posted on by Mac Prichard

Don’t Do These 10 Things in an Informational Interview

Informational interviews are one of the best ways to clarify career goals, grow a professional network and uncover unadvertised jobs. Having these conversations with other professionals can answer practical questions about positions in your field, make new contacts, and put you in front of hiring managers.

Haven’t done an informational interview yet? You need to take a few basic steps to schedule an appointment. And finding people to see is easier than you think.

Whether you schedule a handful of these meetings or dozens, here are 10 things you don’t want to do in an informational interview:

1. Arrive Early

Don’t come more than five minutes before an appointment. The person you’re meeting has other business. Instead, take a walk around the block or catch up on your email at a coffee shop.

2. Dress Down

Offices are much less formal these days. Business casual works most of the time. Always know the office culture, however. And avoid being too casual. I once had someone show up in a sweat-soaked Spandex cycling jersey and shorts.

3. Forget Your Resume

Always offer to share your resume at the start of the meeting even when you’ve emailed it in advance. The person you’re seeing will be grateful to review it again and refresh their memory about your background.

4. Fail To Do Your Homework

There’s no excuse for not reading the company website and LinkedIn profile of the person you’re asking for help. Doing so gives you the information you need to make the most of the conversation and signals you want to use the time well.

5. Walk In Without a Goal

Every informational interview must have a purpose. Your exact goals depend on your needs. These could include introducing yourself to leaders in your field, growing your professional network, and reconnecting with former colleagues. Be clear about what you want before you walk through the door.

6. Have No Ask

A veteran lobbyist I know says an unsuccessful meeting is one that ends without any next steps identified. Perhaps you want insights in changing careers, advice on how managers in your field hire, or introductions to new contacts. Have your list ready. The people you’re meeting wouldn’t see you if they didn’t want to help.

7. Ask For A Job 

Never ask for a job in an informational interview. You’re there to network, not to apply for a position. 

8. Assume Unlimited Time

Your time is your most valuable asset. The same is true for the person you’re meeting. Don’t ask for more than 30 minutes. Bring the meeting to a close on schedule.

9. Leave Your Cards At Home

Every professional, including people looking for work, needs business cards. Exchange cards when the appointment ends and use the information to stay in touch with your contact on LinkedIn.

10. Neglect To Send A Thank-you Note

Hand written notes are nice. Email is just fine. Whatever the format, just do it and do so within 24 hours. People will notice (and remember) if you don’t.

What has been your experience with informational interviews? Share your story in the comments below.

Image used under Creative Commons from Flickr user Larry Flynn

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Mac Prichard
Mac Prichard publishes Mac's List and owns and operates Prichard Communications, a public relations agency that serves non-profits, public agencies, and foundations across the United States. He also blogs regularly about job-hunting in Portland.
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  • Mark Fulop, MA, MPH

    Mac, being on both ends of going out on informational interviews and being interviewed by job seekers/career advancers, I would add that I too am a big fan on informational interviews as they have helped me get jobs and hire great candidates over my 20+ yr career. I have to say that your 10 reminders are essential. I would add one more connected to your goal and ask: Think ahead about the 3-5 (max) interview questions that will help you reach your goal. When I give up my time for an interview, please don’t flounder for the first 10 minutes trying to focus on what you need from me. Thinking ahead about what you ask me is important to do in advance.

    • Mac Prichard

      Excellent advice, Mark!

      Every employer wonders what you as a candidate can do for the organization. The more a job seeker understands an employer’s needs, the more successful they will be.

      And you’re right, too, about preparing questions in advance. I’m always impressed as an employer when a candidate pulls out a list of typed questions (and how few finalists do this). It shows preparation and seriousness and always reflects well on the candidate.

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