3 ways to get the most out of an informational interview

Author Richard Moy for The Muse on Mashable

It became clear to me very quickly when I was a recruiter that one of the most misunderstood facets of the interview process is the informational interview. All too often, I’ve had to be the bearer of bad news to friends who didn’t quite understand what to expect from one.

“But, they don’t schedule them with just anyone,” they said. “As long as I impress the person, the company’s going to create a job for me — I just know it!” To which I unfortunately had to reply, “They get scheduled more often than you might think.”

Hiring managers do schedule them to build their pipelines for future positions down the road. They don’t, however, conduct them because they’re prepared to hire that person. While this dose of reality might come as a blow, there is a lot you can gain from the informational interview you’ve just scheduled.

Here are three things you can (and should) get out of an informal conversation with The Person In Charge.

1. Information you can use to decide if you actually want to work at that company someday

Informational interviews are exactly what the name indicates. They’re informational. And because the stakes aren’t quite as high, you should feel free to ask as many questions as you’d like — even if that means your “interview” becomes more like a conversation in which you find yourself interrupting the interviewer a bit (emphasis on a bit).

Typically, you should only be scheduling them with companies you’re interested in working for someday. So, take the opportunity to confirm that you’d be really excited if they called you about a role that is just for you down the road. You might love the fact the office offers free lunch on Wednesdays, but this is a really great way to find out if actually working there is as awesome as that perk.

2. Details about when a job might open up for you (or not)

There’s no gig waiting for you at the end of your informational interview, but that doesn’t mean more roles aren’t bubbling at the surface on the recruiter’s end.

When my career was searching for great candidates, I was in more meetings about future roles than I was about our current openings. I generally knew three to four weeks in advance of a job being posted to our careers site. And when I conducted informational interviews with candidates, I didn’t necessarily say, “We’ll have something for you next week!” But, I was fairly upfront about when someone could expect to hear from me about a position I knew I’d have to start working on.

At this point, you already know to ask as many questions as you’d like in your informational interview. And while it might seem a bit presumptuous to ask about any future roles the hiring manager might be thinking of for you, think again. Recruiters don’t have much time, and while these informal conversations are being scheduled fairly often, you’re right in thinking that they’re not just being scheduled with anyone.

3. A connection you didn’t have before

Of course, the point of an informational interview is to get an “in” with a company you’re super excited to (possibly) work for someday. However, it’s no secret (at least anymore) that recruiters aren’t shy. In fact, when it comes to sharing resumes with each other, hiring managers actually do it more often than you might think.

While the company you’re interviewing with might not have a role for you right now, the person you speak with might know of something for you at another one that is just as cool. In fact, after getting to know you a bit, the Person In Charge might actually determine you’d be happier somewhere else. And if he or she knows of that somewhere else, don’t be surprised if you find yourself hearing from him or her. That is, assuming you nail the informational interview, of course.

Although it can be a bummer to realize that the informational interview you’ve been prepping for probably won’t yield immediate results, there are plenty of other reasons to schedule them — especially when it means you get to chat with someone at a company you’ve really admired for a long time. Once you’ve taken the time to understand what you can gain from taking a few minutes for a quick conversation with a recruiter, you’ll quickly find that even without the promise of a job at the end of the tunnel, there’s plenty that you stand to learn from these informal chats.

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