5 Components of a Successful Informational Interview

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(U.S. Army/Spc. Anita Stratton)

As you ready to exit the military, you may have heard -- during your transition classes or through your network -- how important informational interviews are to a successful reentry into civilian life and work.

Today, as the job market offers many opportunities for employed individuals to compete for advanced positions and job seekers find more open positions available, informational interviews can provide a valuable resource for you to evaluate, consider and compete for your next job.

What Is an Informational Interview?

An informational interview offers you insight, information, connection and validation on your ideas or choices. Informational interviews are not job interviews. They may lead to a job consideration, but the intent behind the interview is not to secure employment from the person with whom you meet.

An informational interview is a structured conversation to help you learn, grow and see opportunities and roadblocks. People will be willing to do these interviews with you if you approach the ask correctly, manage the time well and show appreciation for their time.

How to Do a Successful Informational Interview

You'll do an informational interview to learn about a position (or type of work), company or industry. You'll choose people to do the interview with, based on their knowledge of those jobs, companies or industries directly.

A successful informational interview has five key components:

1. You reach out (online or in person) to the individual with a clear ask that describes

what you're seeking input on (job, company or industry) and how they can specifically help.

For instance, you might say, "I see you have a background in supply chain logistics and now work for XYZ company. As I consider opportunities after I leave the military, would you be willing to spend 15 minutes on the phone with me telling me more about your work and why you chose XYZ company?"

2. You set a sensible time contract. In the example above, you're asking for 15 minutes, which is reasonable. Asking for 1-2 hours is extreme and challenges most people's tolerance and work schedules. Asking for five minutes feels like you might be trying to sell them on something, rather than ask for guidance. 3. During the interview, you manage the conversation to allow the discussion to wrap up in 15 minutes. The other person may extend the time -- which is their prerogative -- but you can't extend it without asking. This shows respect.

4. You come to the meeting prepared. Be on time for the conversation and have your questions written out in advance. This will ensure you stay focused and keep the conversation directed at what you need most to make a good career decision.

Express gratitude for their time. Say "thank you" at the end of the meeting and follow up with a personalized, handwritten note or email thanking them and asking whether you may stay in touch as you move through the career process.

5. Stay in touch. While you didn't ask for a job, you hopefully made a positive impression. This may lead the interviewee to want to discuss an open position with you or refer you to an opportunity they know of. Even if that doesn't happen during this meeting, staying in touch can lead to valuable opportunities in the future.

Update your interviewee on where you land a job, reach out to them if they can provide more guidance or insight and thank them (again) if information or perspective they offered during your initial interview proves valuable later. This is good networking practice.

Informational interviews don't have to stop once you have gathered all the intel you need to make a solid career choice. You may continue to do these interviews later to learn how to grow your career, navigate challenges or even cross into new markets or opportunities.

The author of "Success After Service: How to Take Control of Your Job Search and Career After Military Duty" (2020) and "Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition" (2014), Lida Citroën is a keynote speaker and presenter, executive coach, popular TEDx speaker and instructor of multiple courses on LinkedIn Learning. She regularly presents workshops on personal branding, executive presence, leadership communication, and reputation risk management.

A contributing writer for Military.com, Lida is a passionate supporter of the military, volunteering her time to help veterans transition to civilian careers and assist employers who seek to hire military talent. She regularly speaks at conferences, corporate meetings and events focused on military transition.

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