When I’m speaking with my career coaching clients, many people seem to draw a blank when I ask them about informational interviews. We’re all comfortable with the notion of job interviews (even if we don’ like them), but informational interviews are a very different animal, and I can’t tell you how many nurses I’ve spoken with don’t understand how powerful these types of meetings can be.
In her book, “The Ultimate Career Guide for Nurses“, my unofficial career coach mentor and guru Donna Cardillo says that informational interviews are actually a form of “formalized networking”, and I couldn’t agree with Donna more.
Informational interviews are a method by which you create an opportunity to have an in-depth conversation with an individual who you have targeted due to their access to, or understanding of, a particular body of knowledge.
During an informational interview, you’re not specifically asking for a job, but you are still presenting yourself as a professional, and you should treat such a meeting as an opportunity to put your best foot forward in every way.
Holders of Knowledge
As I said, a person with whom you meet for an informational interview holds certain knowledge and information, and your purpose is to glean salient information from the conversation in a thoughtful manner.
Professionals with whom you meet for an informational interview may understand a particular nursing specialty, have contacts within a specific organization or facility, or they may simply know something that you want to know. These individuals are indeed holders of knowledge, and your task is making sure that you understand what it is that you want to know so that you can use your time—and their time—conscientiously and efficiently.
What About Jobs?
When you meet with someone for an informational interview, you may realize that their “insider information” may actually lead to jobs or positions that have not been, or will not be, posted or advertised. Bear in mind that if you request such a meeting with another professional, they are going to expect that you will not necessarily be asking for work. However, if it comes up (or if you can adroitly steer the conversation in that direction), talking about potential positions is not completely verboten.
Informational interviews can sometimes open “back doors” to employment, and Donna Cardillo herself tells several stories of how various informational interviews that she requested actually led to interesting and well-paying jobs in the course of her career.
How To Do It
Requesting an informational interview can feel scary and intimidating for a variety of reasons, especially because you’re asking a hard-working person to spend some of their highly valuable time with you. Granted, some people may just be too busy to meet with you, but many people actually like to talk about what they do, and some may be the types of individuals who love to “preach the gospel” of their particular specialty or institution. If you show genuine interest, the person you are interviewing may actually feel quite flattered that you would take such interest in them and their knowledge.
You can reach out and request informational interviews via email, phone, as well as via Linked In and other social media platforms. This may sound a little nerve-wracking, but you might even walk into a facility or office and boldly ask to make an appointment with a specific individual. Formal letters are also a good bet, but you should understand that the letter should certainly be different than a cover letter, especially since the purpose of your outreach is somewhat different from the traditional outreach you would do when looking for a job.
No matter how you ask, make sure that you’re very specific in stating that this is an informational interview. Express gratitude in advance for them even considering your request, and make it very clear that you value the individual’s time. Set a strict parameter of how much time you’re requesting, and try to keep it brief, perhaps 20 or 30 minutes. This will let your contact understand that you are aware of the value of their time, and that you’re not asking for them to sit with you for hours on end.
Donna Cardillo recommends requesting an informational interview via a more formal letter rather than an email, but I also understand that some situations may make that less than convenient. Use your judgment, and use the mode of communication that seems most apropos.
A face-to-face meeting is probably the best way for you to make the most powerful impression, but that’s only possible if you and the person with whom you would like to meet live and work in the same geographic area. Chances are, there will be many people with whom you’d like to meet who live in a different region of the country, or perhaps in another country altogether. Thus, other means of communication—like Skype, Google Hangouts, and telephone—are also perfectly acceptable. But if you’re targeting professionals in your local area for such a meeting, advocate for a face to face meeting if you can.
A Few Hints
For a face-to-face meeting, always offer to meet at the individual’s place of work so that they don’t need to be inconvenienced in any way. If they’re amenable to you coming to their office, don’t ask if they’d like you to bring anything for them; rather, say something like, “I’m stopping by a local cafe on my way to see you, and it would be my pleasure to bring you your favorite drink or snack. What can I bring for you? If they work in an office with others, you could also walk in with a box of donuts or some other snack for them to share with their office mates. If meeting outside of their office is preferable, make it unequivocally clear that you would like to treat them, and suggest a nearby location for breakfast, lunch, a snack, or coffee.
Even though this isn’t a job interview, make sure to have a copy of your resume with you. If you’ve written a book, a thesis, or a journal article, bring a copy as a gift. if you don’t have a personal business card, get one printed so that you can also hand them your card. Make sure you connect with them on Linked In, too.
Without a doubt, be prepared, and have a list of questions for your meeting. You may be asking for advice, or you may be requesting that they tell you about their experiences in a particular area of specialty or focus. If you’re trying to glean information about a specific type of nursing, for example, ask about their own history in that area, and what developments or trends they’re witnessing. Importantly, make sure that you ask about other individuals whom they may recommend you speak with; and if they have contacts for you, try to get a sense if they’re willing to make a formal introduction, or if you can at least use their name as leverage.
Following your informational interview, always send a thank you note, preferably via the mail. Your letter should express enormous gratitude for their generosity of meeting with you, and it’s a good idea to specify ways in which the conversation was helpful to you.
If you’ve followed my advice and connected with your interviewee on Linked In, write the a gracious testimonial on that platform as a way of saying thank you. Keep in touch periodically, and make sure you follow up and keep them posted on your progress and successes.
Informational interviews are a tool in your networking toolbox, not a be-all and end-all strategy. Use them judiciously, follow the etiquette that I’ve proposed, and use these types of interactions to move your career forward in an inspired direction!
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Be well, dig deep, and keep in touch!
Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is the Board Certified Nurse Coach behind NurseKeith.com and the well-known blog, Digital Doorway.
Keith is co-host of RNFMRadio.com, a wildly popular nursing podcast; he also hosts The Nurse Keith Show, his own podcast focused on career advice and inspiration for nurses. Keith is also the resident nursing career expert at Nurse.com.
A widely published nurse writer, Keith is the author of “Savvy Networking For Nurses: Getting Connected and Staying Connected in the 21st Century.” He has also contributed chapters to a number of books related to the nursing profession, and currently writes for MultiViews New Service, LPNtoBSNOnline.com, StaffGarden, and Working Nurse Magazine.
Mr. Carlson brings a plethora of experience as a nurse thought leader, online nurse personality, holistic career coach, writer, and well-known successful nurse entrepreneur.