What exactly is an informational interview? Generally, it is a conversation of twenty minutes or so with someone working in the same field as you. The goal is to help you learn more about your sector or industry, the functioning of your contact’s company, and potential employment opportunities. It is a particularly effective strategy for building or expanding your network, which is a stepping stone to the job market. Here are some tips from our Interconnection Program team.
Where to start
If you are new to Quebec, you should know that LinkedIn is the best tool for building your network. It is important to have an up-to-date profile on this platform and some existing connections with local business contacts. If you don’t have any or want to quickly expand your contact list, you can participate in networking or mentoring activities. Many of them are free and offer great opportunities to build connections on LinkedIn later.
The next step is to make a list of about forty companies that interest you. On LinkedIn, identify the employees occupying positions at the same level as yours and who are 2nd-degree connections to you. In other words, these potential interlocutors are connected to your contacts, and you can ask your contacts to introduce you.
Finally, you will need to formulate your request in a clear and concise manner. For example: “Following Geneviève's introduction, I am contacting you to find out more about your career path and the trends in your industry. Having been in Quebec for a few months, this information would allow me to better understand the job market. Would it be possible to meet for about fifteen minutes in the near future?” You could propose three possible times or let your contact get back with their availability. Similarly, do not hesitate to suggest a neutral place suitable for this kind of meeting, like a cafe close to the person’s office (keep in mind that you should pick up the bill, so choose a place that is in your budget).
The phone conversation
The person may prefer to talk to you by phone if he or she has limited availability. This situation is not ideal as professional links are often formed through in-person meetings. Also, over the phone it is important to be comfortable in the language spoken by your contact so that the exchange is fluid. It is best to ask to postpone the appointment until your contact is less busy.
How to prepare
Effective preparation should take three elements into account: the questions you will ask your contact, your attire, and the documents you will provide.
Unlike a job interview, where you have to prepare answers, a successful informational interview depends on the questions you ask. Prepare for this exchange by studying:
- Your contact’s career path, portfolio, and activities on LinkedIn.
- The values, mission, projects, successes, and LinkedIn activities of the company your contact works for.
Ideally, you should develop five or six questions. These could include a description of a typical work day, which will allow you to fully understand the corporate culture in Quebec; the requirements, depending on your contact, for a position similar to yours and the rate of employment in your region; and the rate of recruitment at the person’s company. You can also get inspired by the questions proposed by HEC Montréal (in French only).
The dress code is more casual than for a job interview. Adjust to the sector you are aiming for as well as the reality of the company and position. For example, if you work in a very corporate environment (finance, accounting, etc.), you should know that a blazer is not obligatory. A shirt or blouse and dark coloured pants will do just fine. The bottom line is that your outfit should reflect the seriousness of your commitment.
Documents to bring
The only one you should bring is your business card, which can serve as a reminder to your contact. The person should think of you if an opportunity comes up in the company or in his or her network.
Do not bring a CV. Informational interviews are not the right context for submitting this kind of document.
How to have a fruitful exchange
For your meeting to be a success, you need to understand the state of mind and attitude to adopt during the exchange and the way to follow up after the appointment.
The mindset to adopt
Your goal is clear. This kind of meeting is about gathering information regarding a particular profession and its trends. You must be attentive. You should avoid showcasing yourself by talking too much about yourself, trying to demonstrate what you can do, and showing why the company should hire you (as you would in a job interview). Do not contradict the request you made when you arranged the meeting.
The attitude to adopt
- Arrive 5 to 10 minutes before the scheduled time.
- Make sure you do not chew gum and put your cellphone in “airplane” mode to avoid disruptions.
- Begin and end the meeting with a firm handshake and look the person in the eye, or if you feel uncomfortable, look at their forehead (your contact will not notice).
- As said before, be attentive when the exchange begins. With your shoulders facing the person, pay attention to the provided answers and do not cut the person off.
- Sync up with your contact: If the person speaks slowly, avoid speaking quickly. It is also important to observe and adjust to the person’s volume level.
- Control your verbal tics.
- Respect the agreed upon length of the meeting, even if your contact was unavailable for a few minutes (to answer a phone call for example). It is up to him or her to offer to extend the meeting.
You can naturally take notes during the meeting.
At the end of the meeting, and with a view to expanding your network, ask if it would be possible for your interlocutor to refer you to two or three of his or her professional contacts.
After the meeting
When you get home or in the next 24 hours:
- Send a LinkedIn invitation if you are not already connected with the person
- Write a message thanking the person for their time and for the high-quality exchange.
- Attach your resume to this message and ask your contact to send it to their Human Resource department (this way, your application will be backed by another person).
If there do not seem to be any opportunities at the company, adopt a more general approach with a message like: “I am also attaching my resume for your information should a position corresponding to my profile become available in your network.”
What if you do not get an answer after this message? Keep in mind that the person is probably busy. The important thing is to maintain the relationship on LinkedIn. Without being too invasive, be on the lookout for his or her “Likes,” comments, posts... You must work hard on your LinkedIn brand and showcase your expertise. At the same time, monitor the business activities of your new contact’s company so that you know if a position opens up. If an opportunity arises, you can mention the name of the person you met in the introductory email or cover letter that you send to Human Resources.
Finally, like any networking approach, be aware that the results may not be instantaneous, but that each person you connect with will always bring you closer to your career goal.
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