Lesson 5: Conducting Informational Interviews and “Converting” Your Contacts
In this section, we’re going to go over how we are going to speak to your “I” to convert them into an “R.” But before you start making calls immediately, do schedule a practice session with your buddy.
There are a few things you should research before your call:
- The overall economy
- The job market
- How the political climate is impacting your industry specifically
- What your dream job actually entails
- The person you’ll be speaking to
- Their organization
Don’t do more than an hour of research for your first informational interview, though. And don’t do more than 30 minutes of research for each interview after that because these first four points only need to be researched once.
It may seem like a bad idea to limit the amount of time you spend researching, but remember, aiming for perfectionism can be paralyzing. After your 30 minutes are up, go back to the pyramid in the previous lesson and continue your outreach. At any point in time, we do not want to stop our outreach and say “yay! I got my first informational interview! I don’t have to do any more work! This is it!” Keep funneling people through the pyramid to make sure you’re never putting all your hopes in one place. Make it so that you get to be picky about who you work with.
Now, this is the basic structure of an informational interview:
Example: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to me today.
Refer to a common connection.
Example: It’s always fun speaking to a fellow Matador.
Set the agenda.
Example: This will be brief. I just wanted to ask a few questions to help me with my job search.
The three steps above can bleed from 15 to 60 seconds if you have a bit of a back-and-forth with your contact.
Give a 45-second elevator pitch.
The purpose of this elevator pitch is to give context to your contact so they know how to answer your questions.
a. Highlight 5 of the most relevant things from your resume and string them together. When I say most relevant, I mean the most relevant to whoever you’re speaking with. For example, if they’ve done mostly project management, you can mention your PMP certificate.
b. Read it out loud to ensure it is 45 seconds long.
c. Example: I am a triple major in business honors, global supply chain management, and marketing. I’m the Vice President of the APICS/ASQ chapter at CSUN. My two favorite projects at CSUN so far have been an R&D project that I did for General Motors as well as an inventory management project that I did for Dominos.
d. Email your pitch to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you need feedback on it.
Ask about projects.
Tie your elevator pitch in with a few questions about a project that your contact either is working on right now, or has worked on in the past. This can be a project that you’ve discussed in your messages or it can be something you saw when googling them or looking at their LinkedIn profile.
a. Beginning your first question with “as an expert on…” can make your connection feel flattered and respected.
b. Example: I’m a recent environmental engineering graduate from UCLA with a minor in mathematics. One of my favorite projects at UCLA was when we worked with pervious concrete. As a building codes authority, I wanted your take on this – given all its benefits and our recent bouts with flash floods in Southern California, why do you feel that the use of pervious concrete is not codified into our development practices?
c. If you’re not sure what sorts of questions to ask, glance at the ideas in the previous lesson.
d. Example: if you start with “Can you tell me more about this project that you’re working on?” Follow up questions can include “What was your biggest challenge during the launch of this project?” and “Are you tasked with leading a fairly large team for this project?” and “What key skills did you have to use during this project?”
e. Make sure your questions are 100% genuine.
Ask your last question.
Ask “what steps do you think I can take to be able to work on this or similar projects?” as your last question.
Ask for a referral.
At the 7.5-minute mark, you ask them for a referral to other resources. There are a few different things your contact can do when you ask this question:
a. Give you their HR department’s information (best-case scenario).
b. Give you a URL or another resource to look at.
c. Ask for a copy of your resume.
d. Ask “what kind of resources do you mean?” Answer example: “If you were in my shoes and you were looking for a job in the Inland Empire as an environmental engineer, what would you do?” Then, ask a few brief follow-up questions until you get something concrete that you can act on.
e. Whatever advice you get, make sure to follow it graciously and follow up with your contact after. In the next lesson, we’ll talk about follow-ups.
Close your call.
Use the following script: It sounds like you’re working for a great organization! I’m going to take a couple of days to think about (the type of project) and all the other great information you’ve shared with me. If I feel like (company name) and I are a good fit for one another, may I email you again to get your recommendation for how I should proceed? Again, thank you so much for your time today.
Forcing yourself to wait may seem counter-intuitive, but what we’re actually doing is greasing the wheels again, from scratch. This is a very easy request to say “yes” to, so it will be very rare that someone says “no.” And in three days, when you do send your contact an email, thanks to the Benjamin Franklin effect, your chances of getting a positive response go up dramatically.
This call-closing becomes irrelevant if, when you ask them for additional resources, they ask for a copy of your resume so they can forward it. If that’s the case, you can leave out this close and instead say “It sounds like you’re working for a great organization. I’ll do whatever you asked me to do, whether it’s to send you my resume or let your HR department know that we spoke. Again, thank you so much for your time today.”
To learn more about following up after the informational interview, check out the next lesson on follow-ups as well as the template pack here.