Written by Sharon Lee
Last year my husband and I made the huge leap of moving from our beloved NYC to Los Angeles, CA, a move that we had been contemplating for a few years and one that we were finally both ready to make. But being the conservative and practical woman that I am, I was concerned with some important matters such as securing a job and having enough finances to support the move, and ... to avoid feeling like we made the biggest mistake of our lives by leaving our very spacious, very rare, rent controlled apartment in a prime NYC location.
But we did it, and we did it very quickly. By the time we came back from spending a week in LA to scout out the neighborhoods, my husband had a job offer and I had 4 follow-up interviews. Within another week or so, we had both accepted jobs in Los Angeles and we were off! But how did this all come about so quickly? We very much felt that it was just our time to go and we were being sent to LA, instead of running away from NYC. Although finding jobs came much more easily this time around, we had a much harder time in the past. Visiting the city played a huge part (face time is valuable still), but so did seeking out Informational Interviews - this is what ultimately got me a job that allowed me to move across country.
What is an Informational Interview? "An informational interview is an informal conversation with someone working in an area that interests you who will give you information and advice. It is an effective research tool in addition to reading books, exploring the Internet and examining job descriptions. It is not a job interview, and the objective is not to find job openings." - U.C. Berkeley Career Center
Although the objective is not to find a job, you'd be surprised at the doors that can open from just one meeting. And even if one doesn't open right away, you will be fresh in the mind of the interviewee when anything relevant comes up in their purview. Although I'm writing mostly about my experience in finding a job via Informational Interviews, I have also used these interviews to guide me in deciding on whether I wanted to pursue a different career path, interest, or just to find out information on how others work successfully in their roles (read our Spotlight interview for an e-example!). Here is a quick guide to scheduling your next Informational Interview, and how one successful meeting can really change the course of your journey:
1. Research companies, firms, industries, etc. and contact the recruiting departments (or a specific individual) to inquire about a meeting: A quick google search could help you spot out the companies you may be interested in working with, and if the company is big enough, they likely will have a recruiting dept with a contact info. However, if you're looking for more specific roles, use your search engine, social media, and profiles to find people in that industry to contact and ask for a quick call or sit down. Linkedin is also a great resource and a much easier connection to make. If there are some commonalities between your experience and the company/industry/roles, I would highlight them in your initial contact so that it seems less random. Informational Interviews are much more targeted than a job search.
2. Send a well written but brief email. My emails are usually enthusiastic, informative and most importantly, brief. I'm very bad at brief. But for these emails I try to not write too much because the reader doesn't know me and is likely not interested in what I have to say unless I hit it quick. Start with a brief introduction of yourself and what it is that you're seeking - I appreciate it when I receive cold emails where people get to the point quickly without sounding abrupt, and then tell me why I should meet them and what they want from me. Create the story for them - who are you, why you are seeking their attention, what you want (a meeting or a phone call), and then start drawing on some parallels. Maybe you know some of the same people, or are part of the same group, maybe it really is just that you are interested in her role and what she does.
I used the top two tips to schedule an Informational Interview, which then led to an actual interview. When we decided to move to LA, we knew it would be a challenge to find jobs from across the country. After some digging, I found a company that was very closely related to the company I was working for at the time. I noticed that they had some very senior level attorneys on staff but no mid-level attorneys to speak of. So, I emailed the recruiter on their website and asked if they were considering hiring an attorney in the near future, despite there being no postings for attorneys on their career page. The next thing I knew, I had a phone call with the recruiter and after letting her know that I'd be in town in a few weeks, she arranged for me to meet all of the attorneys. At the time I didn't know it, but the company was starting to consider hiring but had only very recently come to that conclusion. Because I highlighted how my experience matched the company's objectives and I represented myself as what they seemed to be missing (a mid-level attorney), this got the recruiter's attention. And I was fortunate enough to get in before there was a job posting for the position.
3. Don't forget recruiters! Recruiters are the easiest Informational Interviews to set up. So the interview won't be about their experience in the specific role, or it's not at the company of your dreams, but so what! If you find a good recruiter, they can be the gateway to many golden opportunities. Recruiters know the market, they are well versed in the day to day of various roles, they can tell you what the average pay is, the benefits, what types of experiences the companies are looking, what skills are valued, etc. They can even help you improve your resume, give you interviewing tips and questions to ask. They can also provide you with the right contacts and names of people you may want to reach out to. Although you should keep in mind that if you find a job via your recruiter it'd be good form to apply through her, you don't have to stick to just one recruiter and you are free to shop around until you find one whose opinions you value.
Before heading out to LA for a week, I spoke with a recruiter a few times on the phone. She had a lead for a law firm in Beverly Hills, but the thought of going back to a firm made my insides scream. I asked to meet her in person while I was in LA to get some face time but also to get an idea of the legal industry in Los Angeles, the in-house community, the job market, the hiring process, what types of attorneys she was best able to match, etc. Basically, an Informational Interview with a legal recruiter where I could freely pick her brain. I had done some research prior to our meeting and had an idea of some in-house jobs on the market. During my meeting with the recruiter, she brought up one of the open positions I had applied for and coincidentally, she knew the general counsel and was able to get me an interview the very next day. I ended up interviewing at this company (and several others) every day of my week long vacation. And at the end of it all, that was the job I accepted and I'm so glad I did. If it wasn't for that Informational Interview with the recruiter, I may never have had the opportunity to interview. The recruiter provided some key insights into the company and the people, which I ultimately used to set the tone of my interview.
4. Set the meeting up right. One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone asks me to have a quick call or meeting with them, and they leave it to me to make the arrangements. It is ultimately inefficient for the interviewee and you are less likely to nail down a meeting. If you are doing the asking, be proactive and provide a few dates, time options, and locations that are most convenient to the interviewee (but not at some loud cafe). Also, it's good manners to pick up the check.
5. Do your homework and come with questions. The purpose of Informational Interviews is to find out more information about the specific industry, role, position company, you're interested in. As mentioned previously, although the point isn't to find a job it doesn't mean that opportunities may not come your way from such a meeting (case in point). I find that the most valuable thing you can gain from an Informational Interview is better knowledge about your interest (which can determine whether you continue to pursue a path or not), whether you would actually enjoy doing the work, and whether the interviewee has any resources or events to recommend. But most importantly, the interviewee provides you with the language you need to succeed in your actual interview. You have the secret. You now know what strengths potential employers are looking for, you know the vision of the company not just from a PR perspective but from an internal culture perspective. You have the inside scoop and you can tailor your interview responses across several interviews by speaking in a language that people in the industry are familiar with and understand. So ask the tough questions! A lot of times these interviews lead to amazing networking opportunities, both for you and the interviewee. Since you aren't meeting the interviewee for an actual job, you are on more equal footing and can appreciate each other's references.
Sometimes, you need to make your own opportunities and create your own way. The amount of things you can learn about anything you may be curious about is truly limitless, and the same goes for the people who are knowledgeable about that area - there are a limitless amount of people who are willing to talk to you or email you about what they do. Also, don't get discouraged if you get rejected or never hear back. I used to write cold emails pretty frequently and wouldn't hear back 9/10 times. But that one time makes all the difference! Here are some interesting articles from around the web that speak to Informational Interviewing: 30 Questions to Ask in an Informational Interview and Levo League has a great post on 10 Intelligent Questions to Ask on an Informational Interview.
Do you have any tips for scheduling Informational Interviews? What are some benefits that you've seen from these interviews? What are some good questions to ask during an Informational Interview? Please include your thoughts in the comments below and share your knowledge!