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Honing Your Information Interview Skills

By: Wendy S. Enelow, CPRW, JCTC, CCM , Career Masters Institute
Source: Executive Update Online
Published: June 2003

"The information interview is perhaps the single most important tool in your job search, and yet it is the area most people ignore" writes Wendy Enelow - founder and executive director of the Career Masters Institute.  In this abstract, she identifies the steps and goals in tackling an information interview.


As the employment market tightens and finding a new position becomes extra challenging, it is more important than ever to take a proactive approach to job search and lifelong career management. One of the ways you can accomplish this is through the information interview.

Eighty-five percent of all job openings are never advertised, and one of the quickest ways to find a new position is to never ask for one. That's right — never ask for one! When you ask somebody for a job, you are almost always asking to be turned down. While no one likes to be told there is no position available, another aspect is at work as well. Most people love to help someone in need, but when they are asked for something they cannot give, they feel uncomfortable. The more uncomfortable they feel, the quicker they will want to forget you, which is the opposite of what you want to happen.

Honesty is the cornerstone of the job search. You are not trying to hide the fact that you are looking for a job; you are only being reasonable when you assume that a person will not have a job for you or know someone else who does. However, when you make it clear you don't expect them to have an opening or know of one, the pressure is off, and they will be willing to listen to you and will usually try to help.

The information interview is perhaps the single most important tool in your job search, and yet it is the area most people ignore. Here's how it works. Call an organization and tell them you are exploring opportunities with numerous organizations in the area and would like to get some information. Ask for 10 to 15 minutes (in person) to discuss the operations, successes, and long-range goals of the organization. You are in charge; you instigate the interview; and you set the agenda. This type of interview puts you in contact with a great number of individuals, increases your chances of finding just the right job, and can be quite enjoyable because you are under no stress to ask for a job. You are simply searching for information and contacts.

There are six steps, or objectives, to each information interview:

  1. Establish rapport. Have the person identify and feel comfortable with you.

  2. Educate the person. Show your value by sharing your skills and accomplishments, making sure they understand your major strengths and how you can effectively contribute to the bottom line. The more you share your accomplishments, the easier you make it for others to help you.

  3. Get advice. Advice genuinely asked for is usually freely given. Ask how they view your skills and whether the career you are seeking is appropriate.

  4. Get information. This is the main reason for the interview. Listen for the latest developments, who is doing what, articles and publications you should read, professional societies you should join, and so on. Absorb all they tell you — write down information and ask questions.

  5. Get referrals. Say, "Can you refer me to other successful individuals like yourself whose advice and guidance would be beneficial?" Not many people will turn down a request like that.

  6. Be remembered favorably. If you have accomplished these five steps, you will have no trouble being remembered favorably, but just to be sure, send a note to each person you interview, thanking them for their time and information. Also, let them know you will keep them informed of your progress. Then, be sure to add them immediately to your database of network contacts.

Author Link: Reprinted with permission from McGraw-Hill. Wendy S. Enelow, CPRW, JCTC, CCM is founder and executive director of the Career Masters Institute in Lynchburg, Virginia. She can be reached at (434) 386-3100.


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