Informational Interview etiquette By Pamela Cook, a Your Career-1.pdf Informational Interview etiquette

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    DDuring your working life, it is important to plan and carefully evaluate how your next position fits into your long-term ca-reer goals. Informational interviews can help focus your career path, identify experiences you should obtain, help chart your next steps, build valuable relationships and, if used effectively, be one of your best career-planning tools.

    What Is an Informational Interview?An informational interview is a conversation with an individual who holds a position or works in an organization or sector of interest to you. It is not an interview for a specific job but rather an opportunity to do some intelligence gathering. Your conversation can help you better understand where your own interests and background match up with a type of posi-tion or sector. You also will be able to make a personal connection with an individual already working in this field.

    For Whom Are Informational Interviews Most Helpful?1. Individuals seeking a new position with more responsibilityIf you think you may want to try a different kind of position at a higher level, you should try to meet with people who hold the kind of job you want. They can tell you what the job entails, what the challenges are, what the career path looks like and what skills they find most useful.

    Example: An annual fund director in a large nonprofit would like to consider a position as a major gifts officer. While she believes the skills she has obtained in annual giving may be transferable, she is unsure how to describe her experience in a job application. She is also curious about how much time she would need to spend on the road. In addition, she wonders whether her experience will be valued more highly in her current organiza-tion or whether she should seek a position in another nonprofit. While each major-gifts position is different, individuals in that role will have specific insights about what skills are most successful in their organizations and how people who hold these roles have been selected.

    2. Individuals seeking positions in a particular organization If you know you are interested in working for a particular organization, you should seek out an individual within the organization who holds a job similar to the one that interests you. You should ask this individual if he or she will share information about the organizations culture, hiring process and the profile of successful applicants. You may meet someone willing to serve as a gatekeeper or advocate who will stay in touch after your interview, let you know about specific openings and even offer an endorsement. Your applica-tion is much more likely to get noticed if you are endorsed internally, and

    Informational Interview etiquetteBy Pa mel a Cook , aCFRe , a nd a ndRe w k auF teil , J.d.

    it often does not make much difference if you are vouched for by an individual who has met you once or someone you have known your whole life. Gracious-ness and perseverance are critical aspects of this kind of informational interview, as these gatekeepers can help move your application into the right hands.

    Example: A major gifts officer in a social service nonprofit would like to work in a similar position at a univer-sity. He is a graduate of the university and is curious about whether his alumni status will be much of an advantage. He has worked mainly on gifts at the four- and five-figure level and wonders whether his experience can translate to higher gift levels. The gatekeeper can let him know how to position his skills and can provide pointers on where and when positions become open.

    3. Individuals considering a new sectorIf you have worked in one sector for a while and would like to consider an-other sector, look for people who work in that other sector. They will be able to tell you whether they have seen individ-uals move into the sector from different kinds of organizations and how often positions come open. There may also be specific places where positions in this sector are most likely to be publicized.

    Example: A development director Suvar

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  • Your Career

    The individuals you contact for informational interviews should occupy a job to which you aspire.

    has worked in increasingly responsible positions in the performing arts world. She has always been very interested in conservation and finds herself hiking and cleaning up parks on the weekends. She would like to find out how open environmental organizations are to hir-ing individuals from outside this sector and what kinds of experiences should be highlighted in an application.

    4. Individuals considering a career changeIf you are considering changing fields, talk to people working for organiza-tions that match your own interests. They can tell you how they got the job, what they do on a day-to-day basis and what preparation would help you suc-ceed in this position. With this informa-tion, you can decide whether you actu-ally want to work in this sector and, if you do, how to approach your current job and whether you should obtain ad-ditional training or preparation.

    Example: A corporate attorney is aiming to move into a position in corpo-rate social responsibility. She has applied for a number of positions in this area but has never been called for an interview. She does not have any personal connec-tions in the field, and she may be lacking experience that could make her a viable candidate. A person who has a role in corporate social responsibility could be helpful in letting her know how most people get positions in this field, how many positions of this type are available and whether there are concrete steps she can takegetting an advanced degree, auditing courses, joining a trade orga-nization or board of directors, make her application more attractive to hiring managers. The person already in the role also can provide information on where jobs are listed and how often job openings emerge.

    Whom Should You Contact?The individuals you contact for infor-mational interviews should occupy a job to which you aspire.

    preference, graciously accept, as con-nections made this way can be almost as valuable as face-to-face meetings.

    Generally, since this is not a job in-terview, you should not be attaching your rsum. If the person agrees to talk and wants to see your rsum, have a clean copy in PDF format that you can send or email right away.

    How Should You Prepare for the Informational Interview?Do some research about the organiza-tion and the interviewer. Even though this is not a job interview, the better prepared you are, the more you will be able to gain from the process. Review websites, do some research online and talk with friends.

    What Should You Do in the Actual Informational Interview?1. Act as though it is an interview. Be on time, and come dressed as you would for an interview. 2. Prepare five to 10 thoughtful ques-tions that go beyond ones to which you can find answers on the Internet. Subjective questions are great. People usually like to talk about themselves. Ask about their career path and the skills they think are important. Find out what they enjoy in the position and what they find challenging. Get their advice on hiring trends and where jobs can be found in their sector. 3. Be agreeable. Even if you disagree with your interviewers advice, gra-ciously accept it. 4. Ask your interviewer whether you can take notes. If he or she agrees, do so. By taking notes, you show that you are lis-tening and synthesizing what the inter-viewer is saying. It can be frustrating to the interviewer if he or she provides ad-vice and contacts and you do not record the suggestions. Handwritten note-tak-ing is usually less distracting than typed,

    You will more likely be successful in having an interview if you find people who are not so senior level that their schedules will not allow a meeting. It also helps when you have some connec-tionyou went to the same alma mater, are in the same a cappella group or have a friend in common. Use your alumni asso-ciations for your high school, college and graduate schools as a start. If you cannot find a nexus, make one. Attend confer-ences and trade association meetings, and network. Ask for business cards, and follow up with the people you meet to request an informational interview.

    If you are still struggling to find a connection, try reaching out directly to someone you would like to meet. Many in the nonprofit field want to give back to others and will be willing to provide some advice and support.

    In addition, once you have done an informational interview, you will find your connections expanding as these individuals recommend others with whom you should connect.

    How Should You Contact Your Prospective Informational Interviewer?It is important to be clear about what you are seeking, flexible on time and place and prompt on response.

    Send a short email, contact potential interviewers through LinkedIn or make a phone call. Let them know how you came across their name, and ask for a meeting of 20 minutes. State that this is for an informational interview and that you are interested in their background and insights on the organization where they work. Offer to come to their office or take them to coffee.

    If they do not answer your initial re-quest, you can make a second request in a few weeks. You may find that some in-dividuals are not willing to meet in per-son but will consider talking by phone or exchanging emails. If this is their

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  • and a laptop can create a physical barrier that could impede the conversation.5. If the interviewer mentions names of others you can meet, write them down and ask if you can use his or her name in your outreach.6. While your interviewer is not a ca-reer adviser, you should ask if he or she would like to see a copy of your rsum. Bring a hard copy. If he or she takes it, ask for general feedback but do not ask for a revision unless offered. 7. Be respectful of your interviewers time and busy schedule. Keep the meeting to 20 minutes, unless he or she indicates a willingness to extend your time together. If you see your interviewer start looking at his or her watch, conclude your ques-tions and thank the person for taking the time to meet with you.8. Show gratitude at the beginning and the end. An informational interview is an act of kindness, and you can never thank somebody enough.

    What Should You Do After Your Informational Interview?In fundraising, you understand how im-portant stewardship can be. You should apply these same concepts to informa-tional interviews. Each informational interview should be approached person-ally and strategically.

    Directly after the interview (within 24 hours), send a brief thank-you note to the interviewer. The person will es-pecially appreciate it if you can allude to one or two particular points you found helpful and actions you plan to take based on his or her suggestions.

    Make sure to immediately leverage any connections the interviewer offered for other informational interviews. With the new individuals you are contacting, follow all the same principles that you did for the first informational interview.

    Stay in touch with the individuals you have met through informational interviews. Keep track of them, the ideas they have shared with you and the specific connections they have pro-vided. Reach out to them incrementally. When you use a piece of advice people have given you, let them know and

    thank them. If you read an article you think they would enjoy, send a copy or link. Try to make contact at least twice a year. Dont ask them to answer you or expect them to do any busy work. Feel free to contact them through LinkedIn and write a few customized sentences in the request. Generally, do not request to add them on a purely social platform such as Facebook.

    If you end up getting a formal inter-view or a job as a result of the informa-tional interview, keep them posted. Offer to take them to lunch, and send a heart-felt handwritten card. After you start, let them know how the new job is going.

    Above all, pay it forward. We all can switch between being the interviewer and interviewee very quickly, and serv-ing as an informational interviewer is a meaningful way to thank the many who have helped each of us in our own careers.

    Pamela Cook, ACFRE, is principal at Pamela Cook Development Search (, an executive search firm in the San Francisco Bay Area. Andrew Kaufteil, J.D., is senior director of UCSF alumni associations at the University of California, San Francisco (

    Dos and Donts of Informational InterviewsBy andRew kauFteil, J.d.On average, during the past five years I have conducted one or two informational interviews per week. Following are two brief examples of tragicbut real informational interview experiences and one that was excellent.

    1. who?I used to work for a law firm and then as alumni director for a law school. One of the students came to me wanting to know more about the law firm where I had worked. I sat down with her for an hour and shared the ins and outs of the firm. I never heard from her again. Six months later, I saw her in an elevator. I greeted her, but she did not recognize me. I reminded her of our meeting and asked what had happened with the firm. She replied, I work there, and then walked out of the elevator.

    2. dont BotherA colleague asked me to speak with her stepdaughter, who lives in a region where I have many contacts. Due to time conflicts, we each had to reschedule our appoint-ment once. When the day of the interview arrived, I had laryngitis and asked to re-schedule. She left me a message saying that she was offended that I had canceled and did not think it was worthwhile speaking with me.

    3. Courtesy and appreciation Go a long wayMy law schools campus was about an hour away from the universitys main campus, and there was a very tenuous relationship between the law school and the under-graduate enterprise. Years after graduating from law school and leaving law practice, I received a note from a graduating senior requesting an informational interview. I accepted. The student was interested in alumni relations and asked a few thoughtful questions, mainly about how she could best pursue a career in this area. In particu-lar, I recommended that, in the remaining months of school, she volunteer with her alumni association. Afterward, she wrote a nice thank-you note and plotted out her next steps. She let me know when she volunteered. I then helped her pursue her first professional job in development at a major university. She landed that job. A few years later, she transitioned to another job at a major university. Along the way, she kept me posted with short notes, status updates and informational links. Advancing Philanthropy 49