The informational interviews I’ve given typically fall into two categories:
1. The job hunter arrives relatively unprepared and asks questions that arise through the natural course of conversation. He wants to know about the type of work I do and if I have any recommendations based upon his particular experiences and skills.
2. The job hunter has researched the local market and targeted a few specific companies that she would like to work for or with. She has clear goals and targets.
Which job hunter would you want to spend time with? Which one would you feel inclined to lobby for?
For me, the answer is revealed in our interactions. I am more productive and focused when the job hunter comes prepared. When that person slides a list of top companies to me, I will rattle off the names of my connections at those locations. She’ll leave not only with a list of contacts, but with a strategy for how to approach them.
Job hunters should spend some time in the library, researching businesses, before embarking on informational interviews. The James J. Hill Library (a private, non-profit business reference library) is one of the best resources I know for job hunters. It has tremendous databases, and you can hire a researcher to help you figure out how to find the businesses you are looking for. They also have an online service that is affordable and allows you to use their services from home.
Job hunters should also research the people they’re interviewing, using LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and the company’s web site. On Facebook and LinkedIn, look for common friends, groups, and interests to prove that you’re part of some of the same circles. On Twitter, look to identify interests and trends. As for the company’s web site, bone up on the exact nature of work the interviewee does, so you don’t bore him or her with simple questions.
Here are a few other tips for job hunters before you network:
1. Advise the person you’re interviewing of your connections at targeted companies and the current status of your outreach efforts, so that you’re not working at cross purposes. You don’t want to waste the interviewee’s time or generosity.
2. Focus on two or three networking connections–the ones that seem most interesting or useful to you. People like to talk about their wealth of connections and their own past experiences. Be gracious, but stop the people you’re interviewing when they get to two or three suggestions that will really help. Focus on how best to approach these targets. With a short list of targets, the interviewee will likely put more effort into helping you get connected.