How to Set up an Informational Interview

If someone has identified a company (or companies) they are interested in working for but there are no jobs currently available, what is the best way to reach out to set up an informational interview?

Did you realize that experts believe 70 to 85 percent of jobs are never posted? That information, courtesy of Denise Leaser, president of GreatBizTools, surprised me — and it made me realize that reaching out for informational interviews is more important than I imagined!

“You could be missing out on a great job by focusing only on job postings,” says Leaser, who suggests looking at potential companies you are interested in working for, then identifying as closely as possible the right person to contact before reaching out. “You can do that by researching through social media sites like LinkedIn.”

Once you’re identified the correct contacts, industry pros offer several tips on how to proceed.

–Establish commonality. “Find the right contact and review his/her profile, then read any blogs or interviews,” Leaser says. “Find any areas of affinity like schools they or their children attended, cities lived in, degree, groups they are members of” — then use that information when you make the first contact.

–Let them know why you’re reaching out. Stephanie Dennis, a recruiter and career coach who hosts the podcast “Career Talk: Learn – Grow – Thrive,” says it is important to acknowledge you don’t see any job openings posted.

“But let them know you understand this can change overnight, and ask if they would be open to having a conversation for future opportunities,” Dennis suggests. “Every hiring manager out there has had someone give notice and not had a pipeline of people in play, so they will likely be open to talking.”

–Be clear but concise. Get to the point immediately, Leaser stresses. “People are inundated with communications, so your note should only be a few sentences long,” she says. “If you are sending an email, use a subject line which shows commonality, like ‘Read your blog, can we connect?’ then start your email with a personal sentence that lets them know you have done your research.”

–Don’t overreach. Anyone who agrees to meet with you knows getting a job is your ultimate goal, says Roy Cohen, a New York City-based career counselor and executive coach. However, handling the situation with a bit of caution is key.

“When you cross the line and ask for a ‘way in’, you risk making the person you are trying to network with extremely uncomfortable,” Cohen says. “Make it very clear from the start that you are reaching out to them for advice and recommendations on how to move your job search forward.”

That doesn’t mean you can’t ask about future opportunities. “Say that you also want to stay on the radar screen should the right position there open up,” he adds. “In other words, what steps can you to take to keep in touch with the right people and not be viewed as a pest?”

–Don’t ask for too much time. Leaser suggests asking for a 20- to 30-minute phone conversation, at the contact’s convenience. “In person meetings are rare, but you can ask,” she says. And always follow up immediately with a thank-you and a list of next actions you plan to take. “You want to make sure they know you are putting the information and time they gave you to good use,” Leaser stresses.

(Article written by Kathleen Furore)