How informational interviews can help your career

Informational interviews

See why this is one of the most effective tools in your search.

One of the most effective tools in your job search is the informational interview. These meetings provide you with an opportunity to build your network of professional contacts, learn more about career paths that interest you and, ultimately, enhance your employment prospects.

Although they're not meant to elicit job offers, these discussions offer exposure to people who are in a hiring position or can recommend you to colleagues. As a result, it's critical to approach informational interviews the right way. Here are some tips to remember:

Reach out appropriately
Email or call the person you hope to interview with a concise explanation of who you are, why you're contacting him and what you hope to gain from the meeting. Be clear that you are seeking information only -- not a job -- and ask for 30 minutes of time at most.

Because it's often hard to get the attention of someone you've never met, a referral from a mutual friend can help in setting up an informational interview.

Come with clear goals
Unlike a job interview, where a hiring manager would lead the discussion, you are the one responsible for setting up this meeting and driving the conversation. So, make sure you know what you want to gain from the discussion. Are you considering a switch to a management track and interested in what steps a person working in that role took in her career? Do you want to transition to a new information technology specialty and garner inside tips for working in that area?

If you start the meeting with no objective, your contact will be inclined to cut the discussion short, so be sure to have targeted questions ready. For instance, if you are seeking advice on becoming a consultant, you might ask how the person got his start consulting or about the biggest challenges he has faced as a project professional.

Do your homework
Make sure you are knowledgeable about your contact before you meet. You should have at least a general understanding of the person's professional history and background on her employer. This will allow you to ask relevant questions and solicit appropriate assistance.

It's also likely you'll be asked about your own background and career interests, so be ready to talk about your goals and accomplishments.

Remember to listen
Have a sincere interest in what your contact has to say. The person is likely to offer more advice -- and more in-depth advice -- if he or she knows you are invested in the conversation. Even if his suggestions aren't what you wanted or expected to hear, respect the guidance given to you. Taking notes can help demonstrate your interest and help refresh your memory of the conversation later.

Don't ask for a job
While your ultimate objective may be to find a new job, you should never ask for one at an informational interview. The goal of the meeting is to build your knowledge about a particular topic. The person may feel deceived if you don't follow through with the intent of the discussion.

Even if you don't ask for work directly, you could be considered for an available opening or receive a referral to a manager who is hiring if you make the right impression.

Show your gratitude
If you have ever helped a colleague or sent someone a thoughtful gift only to receive no word of thanks, you know how discouraging it can be. The last thing you want to do is make a contact feel unappreciated, so be sure to send a thank-you note within a day or two of the meeting.

Informational interviews are a useful career strategy. Just be sure to prepare carefully, listen and follow through to create a lasting, positive impression with those you meet.

With more than 100 locations worldwide, Robert Half Technology is a leading provider of technology professionals for initiatives ranging from web development and multiplatform systems integration to network security and technical support. Robert Half Technology offers online job search services at Follow Robert Half Technology on Twitter at