Informational interviews are informal interviews for the purpose of building a personal relationship that might proliferate into an employment opportunity. During a job hunt, these interviews, although not a part of the formal interview process, are very important because they create stronger personal relationships and give you a leg up when the formal recruiting or hiring process begins.

1. Demonstrate Experience & Interest

The immediate goal of an informational interview is to build connections but the ultimate goal is to secure employment. To this effect, although your interactions may masquerade as “informational” (ie: finding out about the industry, sector, day-to-day operations, etc.), they should also be aimed at creating an impression of genuine interest, knowledge, and competence within your target field. To this extent, show the interview that you have some experience in the area or that your prior efforts have been aimed at honing your skills in a given area. If you cannot point to a specific accomplishment or project, it might be best to accumulate very quick experience that can justifiably support a showing of genuine interest in the field. Additionally, one can use less concrete forms of justification such as family connections or motivating conditions leading to your passion. For example, an informational interview for a teaching position might highlight that you were the first in your family to graduate from college and that education continues to play an especially important role in your life.

Some other ways of tangentially showing interest include courses that you have taken in the past, family members that work in the industry/sector (ie: “My mother and father are both doctors and I suppose I was destined to practice medicine as well”), or by highlighting upcoming programs, education, or training.

2. Build Connections Through Similar Backgrounds 

The importance of rapport building cannot be understated. As humans, we tend to like others that we can relate to and the best way to do this is to highlight similarities. Whether you can build out similarity through race/ethnicity, similar life obstacles that you have had to overcome, or through geographic locations (share a common home town), it is very important to highlight similarities.

Additionally, it is important to leverage the similarity so that it is relevant to the job. For example, ask how their background (the one that is similar to yours) has led to their success in the industry. This accomplishes two goals. First, you instill the perception that there are tangible similarities between the two of your. Second, this allows the interviewer to think critically about how their background contributed to their overall success. Once it is established that a type of background leads to success, you can reinforce that your background will lead to the same success.

3. Ask For Referrals

Always keep in mind that you have asked for an informational interview for the purpose of eventually obtaining a job. The problem is that the person you are directly talking to might not be the eventual hiring decision-maker and even if they are, the company or firm might not be hiring at the time of the informational interview. This is why asking for a referral is so important. Asking if there is anybody else that you should talk to accomplishes two goals. First, it may ferret out additional people at the company that make the final decision on hiring. Second, it builds your network since they may refer you to someone else or another company that is hiring at the moment. The worst case scenario is that you build your network of valuable connections!

Informational interviews should be in every job-seeker’s tool box. Building personal relationships is key to successful job hunting.