When you set up your informational interview, there are a few guidelines. Ask for a twenty-minute initial meeting. Don’t ask for a longer meeting because people perceive it to be a greater impact on their day. They often feel that they cannot spare a cold caller (or even a referral) thirty minutes, but can squeeze twenty minutes into their day. Stick to the twenty minutes and not a moment longer!
Prepare for this interview as described in the previous section. Know all about the company and what they stand for (or at least as much as is publicly available) so that you can ask questions that are focused and that demonstrate your preparation skills. If there are specific projects coming up or positions that interest you, focus your questions on those. Remember that you are not on the hot seat over a particular job; nor are you there to ask for a job. You are only there to gather information.
Have your list of questions on a clipboard or pad of paper to help keep you focused and on time. After you provide a two-minute summary of what you know about the company, as well as your background, ask the questions that you prepared. (Remember that since you initiated this meeting, you are asking the questions.)
Here are some potential questions that you might want to include in your twenty‑minute meeting:
- What kinds of projects are going on right now (looking at expansion, new market areas, etc.)?
- Can you tell me what the people who work here say about this company? (This might be anecdotal or they could show you an employee engagement survey, for example.)
- What would you say are the biggest challenges for this industry right now?
- How do you go about finding the people that you wish to hire?
- What kind of mood are people in when they leave work at the end of a shift?
- Are there special courses or training that help people to be considered for positions here?
- Is it possible for someone with my background to be considered for positions here? If not, what would you suggest is a good developmental step for me?
Bring a copy of your resume with you to the meeting, but only provide it if you are asked. You may also wish to have your portfolio with you, but again, only provide it if asked.
Information gathering meetings can shift to a more formal interview if the employer is interested in hiring you. If that is the case, your twenty-minute period may not be enough. You can say something like this: “I promised to only take up twenty minutes today and I respect your time. Would you like me to schedule another appointment?”
Following the meeting, send Ms. Smith a thank you note, in appreciation of her time and information. This shows her that you genuinely appreciate her time. It also reminds her of your visit and may encourage her to think about you favorably in terms of your job search. Be sure to include your phone number on the note.