Informational Interviews: Your Job Search Secret Weapons

When looking for a new job, most of us spend all our time perfecting our resumes and applying online to random openings. These tactics can sometimes work, but not always.

Isn't there a better way? There has to be – especially for those times when you're ready for a career change, but aren't quite sure where to look.

In fact, there is a great way to boost your job search strategy. It's cheap and easy to do. It can even be fun. In fact, you may be doing it already without even realizing it. The secret is what we call "informational interviewing."

Intimidated by Informational Interviews? Don't Be

At first glance, informational interviewing may sound quite intimidating. After all, this phrase contains the word "interview" – and that's always intimidating.

But in reality, informational interviews are quite relaxed. They're more educational than evaluative.

Instead of calling them "informational interviews," perhaps we should rename them "getting to know someone new who works in a different industry or company than you do" interviews. Or, we could simply call the whole thing "networking."

That sounds a bit more reasonable, doesn't it?

How to Land an Informational Interview

To set up an informational interview, reach out to those people you'd like to learn more about. Perhaps they work in interesting industries, or maybe they have particular job titles that pique your curiosity. Give these people a call, send them emails, or write them notes on LinkedIn. Tell them that you admire their work and would be grateful if they'd take just a few minutes to speak with you over the phone. If they seem especially receptive, ask them if you can take them for coffee or meet in person at their office.

Preparation Makes Perfect

Before the meeting, do your homework. Learn everything you can about the person's career and their company. Come prepared with a list of questions. If you aren't sure what to ask, think of things you'd like to know that will help you understand more about their company or their career path.

Sample questions might include:

- How did you get into marketing?

- What convinced you to work at your company?

- What was the process like for you to switch your career path?

- What do you like the most about your job?

Be prepared to answer questions about yourself, too. The most common question you'll be asked is "Tell me about yourself." If you aren't sure what you want to do next, be honest. However, you should avoid confusing the other person. The fastest way to do this is to rattle off a laundry list of possibilities for your next move. If you have a few specific choices in mind, speak about the one most relevant to the person you're talking to.

Be conscious of time. Show up a little early and be careful not to keep the person too long. Afterward, send a thank-you email and a handwritten thank-you note. Don't forget to connect with the person on LinkedIn and check in with them occasionally. The connections created from informational interviews can often turn into new job offers in the long run – but only if you manage them wisely.

A version of this article originally appeared on The Memphis Daily News.

Angela Copeland is a career coach and CEO at her firm, Copeland Coaching.