Economy & Jobs

5 Steps to an Informational Interview That Sets You Apart

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With the economy still getting back on its feet, it’s no secret that navigating the job market can be tough. Although unemployment is on the downshift—it came in at 5.4 percent in April 2015—there appears to be no shortage of qualified applicants chasing the limited number of available positions. An informational interview is a great way to set yourself apart from other job seekers, open new doors, and meet people you wouldn’t otherwise be able to.

Here are five steps to landing and handling this form of networking:

1. Research and Leverage Your Network

Attend industry events, check your LinkedIn connections, and browse your contacts list for people in your desired industry. Hop on Google to search for companies and businesses that offer positions aligned with what you want to do. Research specific industries, positions, and skill sets.

2. Get Organized

Compile a list of people you want to reach out to, along with their phone numbers and email addresses. Make sure to indicate if you have a mutual connection who can introduce you. Once you contact someone on your list, note that in an additional column. Also include columns where you can later list the date you connected and whether you’ve sent a thank-you note.

3. Make Contact

The purpose of an informational interview is to get information, so when reaching out to someone, keep your introduction brief. It’s not about you, it’s about them. Demonstrate that you’re interested in what they do. Comment on something you admire about them, or include a recent piece of industry news they were a part of. In your request, ask if you could take 15 minutes of their time to learn about their personal experience within their careers and how they established themselves.

4. Dress the Part and Ask Targeted Questions

Although you won’t be attending a formal interview, you should still dress and act your best—you want to impress your interviewee, after all. Show up in business attire, and have a list of questions on hand:

  • Could you describe your career path for me? How did you get to where you are?
  • What does a typical day look like for you?
  • Which parts of your job are the most challenging? Which are the most enjoyable?
  • How would you describe your company culture?
  • What types of changes have you seen within the industry and within your company since you’ve been there?
  • What types of changes do you foresee in the future? Is this field growing or contracting?
  • What type of educational background or preparation should someone looking to enter this industry or profession have?
  • What qualifications would you look for in a new hire?
  • Based on the experience I have, are there any areas that need improvement? Are there designations or education I should focus on?
  • Which companies or positions do you think I should target within the industry?
  • Are there any companies, publications, or news sources I should seek out for further information?
  • Is there anyone in your network whom I may benefit from speaking with? Would you mind putting us in contact, or can I mention your name when reaching out?

5. Stand Out in Your Follow-Up

Email is the norm in today’s job market, so be different and send a handwritten thank-you note to your interviewee. Thank them for taking the time to meet with you and include a specific, valuable piece of information you gained or plan to take action on from your conversation.

Finally, use what you learned in your informational interview to tailor your job search and applications. With insider insight, you’ll have a distinct leg up on the competition.

Mary Beth is shaking up traditional views of financial planning by leveraging technology to work with GenYers across the country to help them make smart choices with their money. She is a Certified Financial Planner™ and Founder of Workable Wealth. Her expertise has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Forbes and more.