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How To Stand Out During An Informational Interview: 13 Techniques For Job Seekers

Informational interviews are a great way to gain unique insight into companies and the positions they offer. For a job seeker, the main aim of the discussion should be to clarify what the company stands for and to learn a bit more about what the business does to see if you’d like working for that company or within that industry. Educating yourself is the crucial purpose of these kinds of interviews.

However, it's still an interview, and the questions you ask might help you stand out from the competition. To aid job seekers that have an upcoming informational meeting, 13 contributors to Forbes Coaches Council look at what you should be doing to ensure that you're making a lasting impression that could result in a real employment opportunity down the road.

1. Do Your Homework

To stand out, do your homework. Learn about the company and the people you will be meeting with in advance. Don't come in telling them how to improve; Come in with good questions to understand past, present and future. Ask them, if they were in your shoes with your background, how would they approach building a future with the company? What skills could you add? Thank them with a small gift under $25. - Bobbie Goheen, Synthesis Management Group

2. Ask How The Company Delivers Its Brand Promise

In an informational interview, there must be a cooperative exchange of questions and answers that educates both parties about the other. A great way for a job seeker to spark the conversation is to ask the interviewer their perception on how their company delivers on their brand promise. This gives the interviewer the opportunity to brag about how they deliver value to their target market. - Lori A. Manns, Quality Media Consultant Group LLC

3. Show You Have The ‘Grit’

Most people who take on the challenge of climbing the ladder of success are never truly ready for the position, but those with grit are ready for the challenge. Even in our presidential race, we have candidates that have never held the presidency, but are prepared to demonstrate the "grit" to take on the challenge. Take the same approach: stand out by showing you have the grit to handle the position. - Mika Hunter, Female Defender

4. Provide True Value

Informational interviews can be seen as one-sided exchanges. That is, the job seeker is receiving information about the role and company. Put yourself in their shoes: what will make it worth their time? Keep it simple: offer an intro to a lead, do a small task for free, buy them a nice lunch or come up with a creative way to provide value. A little empathy will go a long way to stand out! - Jordan Carroll, Jordan Carroll

5. Have An Effective Elevator Pitch

Knowing who you are and what you bring to the table before an informational interview is key. A job seeker needs to have a brief and compelling elevator pitch. For example, this could be your LinkedIn summary. An effective elevator pitch quickly states who you are, the value of your skills, and your goals (what you're looking for). To close the elevator pitch, have a business card or resume on you. - Elizabeth Ruiz, EAR Enterprises

6. Talk About What You're Best At

The most critical thing you can do is be self-aware and know what you can do better than anyone else and communicate that effectively. Instead of taking a passive role, assuming the company will know where to place you, take an active part in helping the company solve the problems they need to tackle. Show them why you're the obvious choice based on experience, passion and willingness to learn. - Jean Ali Muhlbauer, People at Work

7. Ask One Great Question

When conducting an informational interview, candidates want to move past information toward relationship or impact. Ask one great question of the employer. How about, "What's the one attribute you're looking for in a candidate?" Or perhaps this: "How might I prepare in advance to make an impact on the team right away?" Questions engage. Ask a great one of the interviewer. - John Hittler, Evoking Genius

8. Don't Let Your Guard Down

They are watching you, so first impressions matter. Dress the part, bring in the questions you want to ask (on paper), take notes. Then email a "thank you" note within 24 hours, citing specific things they shared. If you are interested in a certain role, bring the job description and ask for their insights and support to interview. Be interview-ready for "tell me about yourself" and more! Prepare! - Dana Manciagli, Job Search Master Class

9. Ask Retention And Culture Questions

Asking questions like, "What's the average tenure of an employee?" helps you understand why people are staying and why they are leaving. Does the employer turn to blame or talent shortage? Do they blame "lazy millennials" or "job hoppers," or do they admit to things like lack of training, resources, etc.? How they talk about their team members before, during and after matters! - Maresa Friedman, Executive Cat Herder

10. Eliminate The Elephant In The Room

To stand out during informational interviews, begin the conversation by stating that you are looking for new career opportunities, but you won't ask for favors or sensitive information. Instead, you want to learn about their company culture and work environment. This allows the other person to not worry about getting in trouble or making a mistake and actually share valuable information with you. - Nader Mowlaee, Engineering Your Mission

11. Tell Success Stories

I recommend clients do info interviews even when there are no openings, if this is a target company for them. Ask the contact, "What is a classic problem you face here?" and then tell them a problem-action-result success story of yours that shows you can solve that problem for them. Your story shows them how you fit various roles there and your excitement about doing the work will show on your face. - Joanne Meehl, Joanne Meehl Career Services, LLC

12. Show Gratitude And Reciprocation

The purpose of informationals is to form advocates who will recommend you for a future role. People are being generous with their time, so stand out by expressing your gratitude, not expectations, as part of your follow-up routine. Send a handwritten note thanking them and reiterating your fit. Stay on their radar and return the favor by inviting them to industry events and sending useful articles. - Loren Margolis, Training & Leadership Success LLC

13. Bring In Collateral

Bring in a proposal about what you would do for the company in the role you imagine yourself in with them. You could create a graph, a PowerPoint or a new product proposal. Write a sample article that they could publish. Be very creative and have fun. It will arrest them because you are creating value and they won't have their guard up that you are secretly trying the backdoor to get in the front door. - John M. O'Connor, Career Pro Inc.


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