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By Carole Martin

There are some basic misconceptions about informational interviews, and the reason you should use them as part of your job search strategy. This type of interview is not a job interview! It is an information gathering session between you and a person who can provide you with information.

It is a process that is largely overlooked because it is misunderstood. The objective of the informational interview is not to interview for a job, but to get information to get a job. You are seeking leads and information regarding an industry, a career path, or an employer, by asking people whom you know, or who have been referred to you. But, before you run out and begin informational interviewing, there is some basic work that needs to be done.

1. Identify the position/company/industry you want information about. This decision will depend on what you want to do with your life and your career. You should have a sense of what is important to you and what you want.

2. Make a list of people you know who can help you with sources within a company or an industry. Since this is part of networking, you will want to include anyone and everyone you know – from your barber to your sister-in-law. The goal is to get the names of people in the field or company of your choice.

3. Make an appointment for 15 minutes to half an hour to interview the person identified, regarding his or her specialty. Most people will be more than happy to help you. Don’t get discouraged, if you find some people are just too busy to give you an appointment. Part of succeeding is being persistent.

4. Have an agenda planned for the session. This is your meeting. Don’t assume the person will give you the information you need unless you ask the right questions. Select questions that will give you the most information. Be efficient and do not overstay your welcome. Keep to the time promised.

5. Conduct yourself as a professional. Dress and act the role of the position you are seeking. Know as much as possible about the company/industry before the interview so that you can ask informed questions.

6. Show an interest in the person, the company, and the industry. A little flattery goes along way. “Mary gave me your name and told me you were considered to be an expert in your field. I was wondering how you got started?”

7. Be prepared to answer questions about what you are looking for. Have a short personal statement prepared, which you can present, if asked “Tell me about yourself and what you are looking for.” Bring a resume, but don’t bring it out unless requested. Remember the purpose of this interview is to obtain information.

8. Get names, if possible. Ask for other contacts in the field. If no names are suggested, be grateful for information or suggestions obtained.

9. Send thank you, follow up, letters. Thank the person at the conclusion of the interview, but also send a note or letter stating your gratitude for the time given. Stay in touch with your contacts by writing notes or emails, informing the person how helpful his or her suggestions have been to you.

10. Take advantage of any referrals given to you. In this process you will have to take risks, and stretch beyond your comfort zone. Each step will take you closer to that job offer.

The informational interview is a source of power that you can use to your advantage. With preparation, listening, and follow through, you will find magic – the power of people helping people.