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6 Secrets to a Great Informational Interview

An informational interview is typically a question-and-answer style conversation that takes place between a job seeker and an established, professional person who has the power to help her or the wisdom to offer her some advice. Traditional interviews are usually scheduled and controlled by employers with open positions to fill, but informational interviews are scheduled by candidates—candidates who are searching for some insight, guidance, and opportunity.

If you're an ambitious job seeker, there are several benefits to this model: first, you're the one who calls this meeting, and you control the agenda. Second, if you handle this interaction well and make a strong impression on your interviewee, you'll have made a connection and opened a door, even if she can't offer you any leads right now. And at the very least, you'll have a chance to practice your professional communication skills. To get the most out of your meeting, keep a few tips in mind.

Make Your Interview Count

Here are six ways to make the most of your informational interview:

1. Plan, plan, and plan some more.

Even if this just seems like a casual chat over coffee, it's up to you to cover every base and take care of every detail. Choose a venue your interviewee will like (remember, you can always invite yourself to her office). Account for proximity, parking, crowds, reservation requirements, etc. Don't put her through a single inconvenience or hassle if you can avoid it.

2. Ask politely.

If your interviewee agrees to the meeting, thank him and then confirm at least once as the established day and time approach. If he says no, thank him just the same. Then give yourself points for your bravery and try again with another contact.

2. Show up early.

For a workplace meeting, arrive about five minutes before the scheduled time. If you're meeting in a restaurant or coffee shop, you can feel free to show up as early as you like. Just don't be late—and "on time" means late.

3. Keep it short, and have a clear agenda.

Plan to keep your conversation under about 20 minutes. Within this time frame, make sure you have a complete list of informed, intelligent, respectful questions for your interviewee. For example, start by asking her how she developed an interest in this field, what she had to accomplish in order to reach her current status, and what she would consider the most important traits for success in this business.

4. Be willing to depart from your script. 

If your interviewee wants to ramble or offer insights you haven't asked for, by all means, let him. Keep your ears open, take notes, and read between the lines. Advice and warnings don't always come with clear labels.

5. Keep your questions focused on advice, not requests. 

Asking directly for favors, leads, and recommendations can be tacky during an informational interview.  Depending on the circumstances and the nature of your existing relationship, it's smart to make your interviewee feel like a wise mentor, not a pack animal. Don't corner her into making any commitments, and ask only for advice—not concrete actions.

6. Pack a resume

Bring your resume to the meeting with you and be ready to hand it over (or send it by email or text) if your interviewer shows interest. Use the formatting tools on MyPerfectResume to create a polished, impeccably edited, professional document that makes you proud.

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