How an informational interview can be a great way to land a job

This tactic will help you gain insight into what’s required to land a job in your chosen field and what to expect once you do so, along with establishing connections with potential mentors.

You’re on the prowl for a job. You’ve done it, I’ve done it. Your battle plan consists of applying to every job there ever was, is, or will be in any field you have a remote interest in.

A successful day is it making it through applying to 70 jobs you found online, from construction work to being an extra in a movie to participating in lab experiments meant to measure your brain wave activity—whatever lands you a job.

This tactic works, but only about 5 percent of the time. Unfortunately, you’ve heard enough stories of people getting hired this way to make you believe it can happen for you, too. And it can—but that’s the worst part, because it becomes your primary job-hunting tactic.

The alternative, “networking,” is an evil, awkward, uncomfortable tactic that involves handing your business cards to every working professional you know, and rudely begging for a job while wearing your only good shirt. But you can’t do that. You don’t have business cards, your one good shirt is wrinkled, and you don’t know the first thing about approaching a professional to ask for a job.

It’s time for a change

Stop applying for every job you find online. It’s time to start networking and give yourself a fighting chance at a full-time job you won’t regret applying for after your third day.

Let’s talk about informational interviews. An informational interview is a meeting between two people, one who’s a professional working in a certain field or industry and one who’s looking to learn more about that industry and get their foot in the door.

Note: This is not a job interview. It’s better in a lot of ways.

A successful informational interview will provide you with insider insight about the industry you’re passionate about. Meeting up with a professional screenwriter will give you the opportunity to discover information you can’t find anywhere else if you want to be a screenwriter.

Google can go only so far

To learn as much as you can from an informational interview, here are five questions to come prepared with:

  1. What is your day-to-day like? What does your average workday consist of?
  2. What advice would you give someone looking to get their foot in the door of the ________ industry?
  3. What are common entry-level jobs in the ______ industry?
  4. What are the next steps you’d recommend for someone like me?
  5. Do you know of any jobs available in the industry at the moment?

That last one is for gutsy individuals. (Hint: They’ll probably get a job faster than others).

More important, an informational interview gives you a professional connection in an industry you’re passionate about. If the interview goes well, you can make that person a professional connection who likes you.

This will mean they’re a lot more likely to refer you to other working professionals in their industry, and they might even suggest your name when they hear about the multitude of jobs in their industry that never get posted online. Bingo.

How to set up an informational interview

“That’s all fine and dandy,” you may say, “but how in the world am I supposed to set one up? I don’t know anybody. If I did, I’d probably have a job right now or something.”

You’re right, you would. But that’s OK.

Here’s what you do. Go on LinkedIn to your college’s alumni database. (You don’t need a LinkedIn account, but you should get one if you want a full-time job.) Find someone who works in your targeted industry, and email them something like this:

Hello, Mr./Ms. Super Professional.

My name is _______. I found you through SDSU’s alumni database on LinkedIn. I saw that you’ve worked at ____, ____, and ____. Since graduating in 2012, I’ve become very passionate about the _____ industry.

I’d love to get your expert opinion on some questions I have about the industry. May I please take you out to coffee sometime for about 30 minutes and ask you some questions about the _____ industry?

They’re probably going to say yes. Know why? Because people love talking about themselves, and everyone wants to help college graduates because they’re the cute, fluffy puppies of society. (The alumni connection helps.)

Do this a lot. I’m your average college graduate, and I’ve done about six informational interviews in the past few months. They’re awesome. So far, I’ve received:

  • A job application for an incredible position not advertised anywhere.
  • A full-time mentor who wants to meet up every few weeks to help me out.
  • A ton of information about content writing and editing, an industry I’m passionate about.
  • Countless referrals to other professionals in the writing/editing industry .

The list goes on.

Sure, I apply to the jobs that LinkedIn sends me and even to a Monster or Craigslist job or two, but informational interviews are taking me places.

You can jump on board, too. Stop applying for every job you’ve ever heard about, and start getting ahead in your career. Informational interviews are the smart person’s job-hunting tactic.

And you’re smart, right?

Anthony Moore discusses post-college awesomeness on his website, stuffgradslike.com, and in his Twitter feed. A version of this article originally appeared on Brazen Careerist.

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