Info interviews are critical to networking and actually achieving personal success. If you are wondering what an info interview is or why you should conduct one, check out my earlier post.
The 4 Keys
1. Interview The Right Person
This first step is often botched. Too many of us think too far down the road. You may think “I want to be the VP of marketing,” so you seek out a VP of marketing to interview. The problem? You are currently an intern for the marketing department of a billion dollar company. Intern to VP is a pretty huge leap. Don’t forget the positions in between your current job and your dream job. Find someone that currently holds the position you will most likely transition to next. Your best bet is to interview a marketing associate. Once you are a marketing associate, interview the senior manager of marketing, then the director of marketing, and finally the VP of marketing. Be smart and get information that you can actually act on instead of information that simply educates you about a job you are not and will not be qualified for in the near future.
(a) Research the interviewee’s company and position. Make sure you know the company’s history, products/services, recent achievements and struggles. Be familiar with the interviewee’s basic job functions and what education/skills it takes to fill that position.
(b) Write down 15 to 30 questions ahead of time and make sure the questions are succinct and helpful. Don’t waste time asking questions you can easily find answers to on the company’s website.
(c) Be prepared to answer the question, “what can I do for you?” In other words, make sure you can clearly state why you are conducting the interview and what you hope to gain from it.
3. Control the Interview
You run the interview – period. Do not wait for the interviewee to ask you questions or give you some magic signal that it is your turn to talk. Make sure you take control from the very start of the interview. Thank the interviewee for meeting or talking with you and reiterate that you will only take 20 to 30 minutes of their time (Do not go over time unless they specifically tell you they have more to tell you after the 30 minutes is up). Introduce yourself and explain why you want to interview them. You should control the interview, but remember they are doing you a favor by meeting with you. Yield to the interviewee if he or she starts talking, even if it is slightly off topic. Always bring it back around by asking another question that steers the conversation in the right direction. If you have a prepared list of questions, this won’t be difficult.
Structure your questions in a logical way. For example, you may first ask how the interviewee decided to pursue their particular field of work. You may then ask what skills and education helped them get to where they are now. Then you can ask them several questions about their current position (responsibilities, culture of the company, needed skills, work-life balance, etc.).
To signal that you are ending the interview (to be respectful of their time), you should thank them again for making time for you and sharing their experiences. Ask them if it is okay if you stay in touch as you utilize the information they provided to ask any follow-up questions you may have. Lastly, always ask for names of individuals you should talk with to learn even more about the company and/or position. This will help you expand your network and set up additional info interviews.
4. Send a Follow-up Thank You
Send an e-mail, LinkedIn message, hand-written note, or a bike messenger for all I care. Just make sure you send a follow-up thank you to let the interviewee know you really appreciate their time and advice. Neglecting this is irresponsible and will make it more difficult to get future meetings with the interviewee.
What do you believe is the most important question to ask during an info interview?