On this episode I sit down separately with Foster 2nd year MBA Career Coach Elaine Newtson and 1st year/evening MBA Career Coach Stacy Duhon to talk about tips and best practices for informational interviews. Students and job seekers can use informational interviews — sometimes called “coffee chats” or “expert interviews” or “prototyping conversations” — to learn about companies and roles. The object of these conversations is twofold:

  • Gather information that will help you understand the company or role better so that you can ultimately interview better
  • Build your professional network so that you might learn about opportunities before they are publicly listed, or in the best case, get a valuable internal referral to a job opening.

To achieve the first goal, you need to go into the interview prepared having done your research on the company and the individual so that you can ask good questions that both elicit the valuable information and demonstrate that you are serious and professional.  Both Elaine and Stacy concur that you should not ask overly general questions or questions that you could answer with a Google search or by reading the company’s website.

You also need to take good notes from your conversation. You might do this during or after the conversation. Since most of these informational interviews will be held virtually, it may be easier to take notes contemporaneously, but you should let the person you are talking to know that if they hear typing, it is because you are going to be taking notes. As you prepare for an interview with that company, or for that role at another company, it is a good idea to review all your relevant notes.

To achieve the second goal of building your professional network, you need to conduct yourself in a professional manner, from the first reach-out on LinkedIn or by email, to the reminder message you send a day or two before, to the actual conversation and then the immediate and longer term followup.

  • After the meeting, be sure to followup with a thank you note. Since most people are working from home, it is probably not practical to thank the person with a physical card, but an email that thanks them for their time and might highlight 1 or two key messages you took way from the conversation is sufficient.
  • If you felt a strong connection to the person, you might add that you’d like to followup with them later in the year, or if/when you are preparing for an interview at their company. 
  • If not already, you should connect to them on LinkedIn
  • If the person suggested an article, podcast, book, class, or other activities that they thought would be valuable to you, after you have read, listened to, attended, you should drop them a note thanking them for the valuable suggestion.
  • If you come across a book, article, podcast, event or similar that you think would be valuable to them, a good way to strengthen the relationship over time is to share these suggestions by email or LinkedIn message.

As always, I hope you enjoy the episode and find something valuable in it. Please consider sharing this episode with a friend, or rating or reviewing the podcast on Apple Podcasts.

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