Informational Interviews: The Trojan Horse of Meetings

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Not surprisingly, most people are uncomfortable calling up strangers and asking if they would give some of their time to a complete unknown and answer questions (except for journalists, of course); however, if you’re looking for a job in today’s competitive market, the willingness to put yourself out there and do it could be the key to a new job.

It’s the sub rosa way into a decision maker’s office — the informational interview. It is a classic networking strategy that allows you to meet with people in an interested field and gain a better understanding of an occupation, company or industry. An ancillary benefit is expanding your network of contacts.

Informational interviews are most often employed by people who are starting out in a field and those looking to make a career transition, but they’re beneficial for almost anyone, according to Huntington Woods resident Dave Phillips, co-founder of DetroitNet.org, a networking group for IT professionals.

“It gets you out in front of people,” Phillips said. “People are more likely to remember your name and your face when an opportunity arises.”

Whether you are an IT pro, interested in the different kinds of software used in a particular industry or a salesperson looking to understand the growth strategy of a particular company, meeting with an insider is often limited only by inhibition.

Phillips recommends tapping contacts on professional networking sites like LinkedIn to get an introduction to the person you want to talk to. To that end, LinkedIn has created a “get introduced” option for contacting people who you don’t personally know but may have a connection with through a friend or a colleague. And, as Phillips wryly concluded, “It never hurts to ask.”

Informational interviews, while potentially flattering to those asked, are never a sure thing though.

“Time is money, and people are busy,” said Matthew Karrandja, executive director for the Career Ministries of Michigan as well as a technical staffing account manager for Troy-based Trialon Corporation.

Karrandja suggests asking for short meetings after working hours. He often meets with people after hours who want to learn more about Trialon, which currently has opportunities for engineers, skilled trades and unigraphics designers in the auto industry.

“Meeting people face-to-face is how you eventually find a job,” Karrandja said. He suggests people do their homework and see if they can find a common bond with the person they want to talk with, such as a shared alma mater, before they reach out. “People tend to like to talk about what they know — and they like to help, so don’t be afraid to ask,” he said.

Both Karrandja and Phillips say it’s important to keep these meetings conversational. “Use them for what they’re intended to do. Don’t try to weasel your way into a job interview,” Phillips said. “Informational interviews are a leap of faith for those who grant them. You don’t want to poison the well.”

Karrandja recommends that you use the interview to find out what kind of talent the company might be looking for. “If an opportunity comes up to ask for a referral to a hiring manager, take advantage of it,” he added.

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