Information interviews are a gift – don’t blow it!

I’m often asked for information interviews from new grads just breaking into communications or junior to mid-level communicators looking to expand and accelerate their careers. I’m happy to pay it forward but have to be selective because as an entrepreneur, info interviews aren’t billable and time is a precious commodity. All I ask is when you get an info interview with anyone, treat it like the precious gift it is. Here’s a few tips on how not to blow it from the perspective of someone who’s agreeing to be interviewed.

Know what you want
An information interview is not a potential job interview, it’s expanding your network by one. It’s an opportunity to learn and make an impression. Be clear on why you want to meet with me in particular, and what you want to get out of the interview. I don’t know how many times I’ve asked “how can I help you?” only to be met with a blank stare or an “I’m not sure” answer. If you don’t know what you want, then I can’t help you.

Do your research and prepare
Don’t come to the interview expecting me to recite my resume. I’m happy to add the colour commentary but check me out online prior to meeting so you can prepare your questions. And come armed with intelligent, thoughtful questions that will get you the answers you need. Offer to send them in advance of the interview.

Make it easy to meet
You are requesting the meeting. I’m doing you the favour. Make it easy for me to meet with you. Offer to meet in my area at a mutually convenient time.  Start with a 30 minute time request. Coffee meetings are good but make sure you get there a few minutes ahead of me. And hey, it’s a nice gesture to buy the coffee!  If I can’t meet with you  person suggest a telephone call. Be patient and mindful that everyone is juggling multiple priorities and  have demands on their time. Don’t take it personally if I can’t meet with you but always ask if I can recommend someone else you can meet with.

Put your best foot forward
An info interview is an opportunity to impress and build your reputation as a smart, switched on professional who wants to excel. Sadly, I’ve had interviews that have been completely unmemorable (vague and unfocused) or left me with a negative impression. Great questions, self awareness, curiosity, openness, humility, authenticity and being considerate are great traits to exhibit.

Be careful what you ask for
I won’t attach my reputation to people I don’t know. Networking is all about building a relationship overtime. Just as you wouldn’t propose to someone on the first date don’t ask people you don’t know for recommendations, the inside track on a job, or a job at your company. Instead ask about how you can build your brand and get involved (I’ll tell you volunteer for related associations). Ask me what books I’ve read that have helped my career. Ask me about what it’s like working in the technology industry etc. I’ll open doors if I connect with you.

Say thank you and follow up
Always return a favour with a heartfelt thank you with a few highlights on what you got out of the interview. It sounds obvious but you’d be surprised how often it doesn’t happen. I’ve received hand written thank you notes – which is a lovely personal touch. Emails are fine too. Remember this is about expanding your network by one so keep in touch by way of providing quick updates on your success. I really like to get emails that tell me someone has landed that dream job. Keeps you top of mind too.

An information interview is a big ask so when you land one, make every effort to make the most of it and soak up all you can. That way, you achieve your objective and it makes us feel that we’ve made a valuable contribution.

 

About the Author:

Catherine Ducharme is co-founder of Outsidein Communications, a brand and communications company, a member and Vice President of IABC/BC and a big fan of Smart Savvy. As a career communicator she mentors and shares her insights on intentional career building.