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Learn from me: Informational Interviews

Updated: Apr 22, 2020

Guest blogger: Hayden O’Rourke, MA in Political Science, Class of 2020

My pitch

Hi, my name is Hayden O’Rourke and I am a graduate student at Lehigh University pursuing a Masters in political science. I am also a community fellow in the Bethlehem Area School District. Would you be available for a short conversation where I could ask you for career advice and learn more about your role at (company name)?

Much of my winter break was filled with informational interviews among executives and alumni that are excited to talk about their background and share how they got to where they are. I have probably written more than thirty introductory messages (above) via LinkedIn or emails to employers that I have an interest in working at. I wanted to be sure those career options were a good fit for me but also I knew it was important to build connections that could impact my job search. Every student who is job searching should consider informational interviewing individuals in order to build a network you can use for applying to jobs. Using Lehigh Connects or Lehigh’s alumni tool on LinkedIn are great platforms to start from and provide safe and professional options for communication.

The process

By taking this advice you might feel that you can just email anyone and hope you’ll get an interview from the CEO or company president. Wrong, start small. Be strategic in who you cold email/contact. First make a list of target employers that align to your interests, locations and industries of choice. Then head to LinkedIn to search for Lehigh Alumni at that company. You might have much better luck reaching out to recent grad or middle management role.

You can do the same type of search on Lehigh Connects using the filters, including the key word search where you can use the company name, position title of interest or even key word related to the type of work you want to pursue.

Communication content

If you find a person you want to connect to send them a note with your connection request (LinkedIn) or click the Lets Connect button (Lehigh Connects). Your note should be simple and to the point and explain your purpose and reason for contacting them. The purpose of contacting them is to learn about the industry and learn about the company from an inside perspective, avoid directly asking for jobs. People are inundated with communication, make your message stand out by sharing a connection, being thoughtful in your wording and doing your homework on both the company and them before you reach out.

  • If you know there is not a vacant position, indicate you want to know more about the company and culture.

  • If there is a specific position open you are interested in, indicate you want to learn more about the role or application process.

  • If you are contacting someone that doesn't have a school or other related connection, be straightforward and go in with confidence.

Example messages:

Hello (name). Its great to connect with you on LinkedIn. I looked over your work and experience and found its very closely aligned with what I want to do after I graduate from Lehigh. Do you have 30 minutes available to talk so I could ask you more about your career path?

Hello (name). It was great to find your profile on Lehigh Connects. I am interested in learning more opportunities for my background at (company name). I have heard great feedback from several classmates who completed internships with you and it sounds like this might also be a good fit for me. Do you have time to talk so I could ask a few questions about current or future opportunities with your company?

If you receive a response to your message you can continue to communicate via the message tools or set up a time to call or video chat. If this is a company you really want to work for, then prioritize a visit in person such as meeting with your connection for coffee, asking for a tour of their workspace, or a 30 minute chat in their office. The effort you put into scheduling the informational interview shows your willingness to get to know the person and the organization.

The informational Interview

If you have a scheduled phone call plan to call from a secluded room where you have good cell service. If you are in Lehigh buildings, some have blocked calls. You can reserve a room in the career center or library that provides reliable cell or wifi service. Be prepared and practice your 30 second pitch as a way to start the conversation and introduce yourself. After that, simply let the conversation flow and let the interviewee talk about themselves. To help keep the conversation going prepare multiple questions including topics that will help you understand their career path, company culture and job search advice. Remember your goal is to gather advice and information that will help you with your job search including uncovering job opening leads and gathering details that help you decide if this company or position are well suited for you. If your interviewee is a Lehigh alum, talk about your experience at Lehigh! Let the conversation be natural and not stiff, practicing with someone first may help.

Sample questions to ask:

  • Can you describe an average work day or some of the recent project you have worked on?

  • How did you decide to work in your industry?

  • What have you found rewarding in your position?

  • How did you get to where you are now?

  • What key skills do you use in your role and how did you learn them?

  • What professional organizations are you apart of?

  • What trends are you seeing in your industry or changes to expect in the future?

  • What does your company look for in candidates? (Sometimes they may not know if they are not part of the hiring process). What can I do as a (sophomore, junior, senior etc) to be competitive in your field?

  • When does your company typically open positions? Where could I get information about job openings?

  • What type of interview questions should I be ready for?

  • What classes were most helpful to you at Lehigh?

  • What goals should I work on this summer/semester/winter break?

The listed questions above are meant to highlight the person's experiences and a path you could see yourself following.

Ending the meeting

If you feel the conversation is over, you should close it with a purpose and an “ask”. It’s possible they will ask for your resume (which shows you made an impact and they are interested) or they might ask you what they can do to help. If they don’t offer, here is how you can more proactively advocate for yourself.

  • Do you have any advice for the next steps I can take to search for work in your industry?

  • Can I share my resume with you to review? (Note this is for feedback, not for a job)

  • If I see a position listed, may I contact you again for a reference?

  • Is there an opportunity to job shadow with you?

  • Could I follow up with you again to check on updates or new job options in the future?

Most importantly make sure you ask the following:

  • Is there anyone else you can introduce me to?

Keep in mind that as you grow your network, let the people in the industry help you out as much as possible. Most will be 100% happy to e-introduce you to another person and help you be on people's radar. Once you make a new connection, begin the informational interview again.

Follow ups and Thanks yous

Finally, write a thank you email within 1-2 business days. In the note discuss how you are taking steps with the advice they shared, what you found most helpful and the next steps of your job search you are working on. You can also follow up again in the next several weeks or months to ask additional questions or share job search milestones.

Example thank you:

Dear (interviewee name),

Thank you for taking time to meet with me and answer my questions about your career in (industry). I was especially interested to learn about your recommendation to apply for (position titles) and have already found a few options on indeed to apply to. Also, as you suggested I reached out to (referral’s name) and we plan to talk next week. If any of my applications receive interview offers, could I follow up with you for your interview advice? I would love to feel prepared and confident when I interview in the future.

Thank you again for your time and advice.

Your Name

My story

As a result of my networking requests, I was able to get three interviews at various organizations in the Philadelphia area. Some of these organizations were large in scale and without having a strong connection, I do not think I would have even been brought in for an interview. I accepted a full-time teaching position in the School District of Philadelphia teaching middle school social studies and look forward to starting my career in 2020!

Need more help with networking?

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