A secret weapon for any job-hunter or job explorer is the informational interview. It is different from a job interview. Informational interviews can be very effective – with a caveat I learned last week.

istock_000006916716xsmallFirst, let’s explore what an informational interview is and what it is not.

Informational interviews are opportunities:

  1. To learn from someone in a field that you would like to explore or want to work in. There are many paths to getting the career you want – find out what worked for them.
  2. To be curious about how someone got to where they are in their career. Why did they choose the company they are working for today? What were some of the most valuable lessons they learned along the way? Interviews that are focused on the other person – not you.
  3. To learn about an organization that you are interested in – the structure, the management style, the mission etc.
  4. To grow your professional network. Perhaps in the future, this person may remember your selfless approach and throw a lead or suggestion your way. Remember to follow-up with a Thank You card.

Here’s what informational interviews are not:

  1. Job interviews. This is not the place to ask someone if they have a job opening or to sell your job qualifications. If the conversation heads in that direction because the other person initiated it, then by all means express your interest.
  2. Long in duration. The typical informational interview is about 15-30 minutes in length. It is short enough not to impose on someone and long enough for you to develop rapport and learn something about the person that is helpful to your job search efforts.
  3. Always welcomed. Know if the area you are looking at is receptive to informational interviews. There are wide differences to what is acceptable and not acceptable in different parts of the country.

As an example, I recently moved from Rochester NY to Charlotte NC. In Rochester, informational interviews are a well-accepted networking strategy. However, it appears in Charlotte, there is less acceptance for this type of networking. A friend recently asked a local job coach and they confirmed that the approach in Charlotte is more task vs. relationship driven when agreeing to a day meeting. The best place to meet people is through established networking groups found on Meetup.com or through other established job search groups.

If you are new to an area or are new to the job-hunting process, there are some places where you can ask about what is acceptable and what is not before trying to engage someone in an informational interview. Check out the local job groups, city unemployment services and career coaches for advice.