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How To Land An Informational Interview

By Gerald Walsh ©

In last week’s blog, I spoke about the importance of targeting specific organizations that you might want to work for. Remember, your goal in approaching companies directly is to obtain a meeting – ideally in person – to introduce yourself, learn about specific careers, and generally network with the person you are meeting to uncover possible job opportunities. In job search vernacular, this meeting is known as the “informational interview.” (Note: I’m not wild about the term “informational interview” but I have yet to come up with a viable alternative.)

An informational interview is an effective way for you to get information without having a formal interview scheduled. Essentially what you are doing is identifying a company you are interested in, or an individual who is in a field you’d like to learn about, and asking them if they are willing to meet and share their advice with you.

There are two types of informational interviews and it is important to understand the distinction. One type is an informational interview obtained because someone else has recommended you. This is very generous on the part of both parties (the referrer and the company they’ve contacted) but let’s face it – the interviewer is doing you a favour. There is little benefit to the interviewer. In this instance, you can probably relax a little bit and not worry as much about impressing them. But still come prepared with a good set of questions and a plan to gain good intelligence that will help your job search elsewhere.

The second type of informational interview is one you have obtained on your own. This is a completely different story because the interviewer most likely has her own agenda for meeting with you. Most employers don’t do these meetings out of the goodness of their heart. They usually have a reason. It could be that they are looking for someone now or might be down the road. Whatever the reason, this interview needs to be taken seriously and treated like a regular interview.

Here are a few things you should keep in mind.

Set a target list

You first have to develop a target list of industries and organizations you are interested in and might like to work for. For example, you might have an interest in manufacturing, health care, professional services, government or not-for-profit. Once you know the sectors that hold some interest for you, you can start to identify organizations within that sector.

Many people believe that the largest employers have the most jobs, and while that may be true, many are also going through consolidation and downsizing to control costs and may not be adding staff. So, don’t overlook the small to mid-sized employers in your chosen sectors. Although these companies are not as well-known, they can be a much better source of employment for you – primarily because most other people will overlook them.

How do you find the names of these organizations?

There are many online business directories that will give you good leads about companies to contact. You should start with the membership list of your local chamber of commerce or board of trade. Virtually every employer of consequence is a member of the chamber or board. In many cases, these directories are available free online. If they are not and you have to be a member to access the list, most chambers offer an individual membership at a very low cost. Joining up would be a very worthwhile investment for you.

There are also numerous “lists” of companies that you can review to come up with ideas and contact information. Here are a few that might help you:

  • Best Workplaces in Canada – Great Place to Work
  • Canada’s Best Employers: The Top 50 – Canadian Business
  • Best Small and Medium Employers
  • Canada’s Top 100 Employers
  • Top 50 Socially Responsible Companies – Maclean’s
  • Canada’s 50 Best Managed Companies
  • Canada’s Fastest Growing Companies – Profit Guide

Many of these lists contain basic information about the companies, like names of key contact people and descriptions of their products and services. And with a few clicks, you can be on their website where you will find all other information you need to know to make an informed approach.

Identify their pain point

Once you have prepared a ranking of the companies you’d like to contact, you should start to research them to develop a better understanding of the challenges facing them. These are often referred to as “pain points” meaning these are problems – real or perceived – they are encountering.

You need to know this information so you can customize your letter and also to prepare you for the face-to-face meeting you are hoping to have. It also demonstrates that you have taken the time to prepare, something most other people don’t bother doing.

As a guideline, most employer’s challenges (pain points) fall into one or more of these categories:

  • Growing their revenue
  • Decreasing expenses
  • Expanding into new markets, products or services
  • Battling their competitors
  • Strengthening their financial management
  • Dealing with human resource issues
  • Building relationships with stakeholders

Ask yourself this question: Is there any way my skills, experience and qualifications can help my target company deal with these challenges? And, then write a compelling letter explaining how you can do that very thing.

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Gerald Walsh is an executive recruiter, career coach, public speaker and writer. During a 25+ year career, he has interviewed more than 10,000 job candidates, completed hundreds of successful searches for a range of organizations and guided many individuals – from young professionals to senior executives – to successful career change. He is the author of “PINNACLE: How to Land the Right Job and Find Fulfillment in Your Career.” You can follow Gerry on Twitter @Gerald_Walsh and LinkedIn