A Story of the Story-Gathering Informational-Interview Technique

I’m republishing this post in conjunction with publication today of my second in a series of short books on highly focused career and job-search topics. The book is Quick and Quintessential¬†Guide:¬†The Best-Kept Networking Secret; it’s just 99 cents till Jan. 18.

I am a huge believer in the not-well-known practice of informational interviewing. While informational interviewing has a setup similar to a job interview, getting a job is not its purpose, at least not directly. As David Rothacker explains in a blog post about his daughter’s experience with informational interviewing, a person driving the info-interview process might be “in search of knowledge specific to marketing in her town, its players of influence and career advice.”

Essentially, informational interviewing, invented by hallowed career guru/author Richard Bolles of What Color Is Your Parachute fame, is research into jobs, careers, and employers. But it’s also a subset of networking because the process enables the job-seeker to make new contacts and ask for referrals, as Rothacker’s daughter Victoria did:

When the conversation was over, Victoria asked, “Can you please refer me to someone who would be willing to have a similar conversation with me?” Mr. Jones recommended the CEO of a medium-sized companay and made an introductory call for Victoria the next day.

Rothacker describes the professional package of leave-behinds Victoria gave to her interviewees and the fact that she always wrote them thank-you notes. Significantly, she made a informational interviewing into a very deliberate and concerted program that was the centerpiece of her job-search efforts for a period:

This process continued for six months with Victoria meeting on average, one person per week. Due to the referrals, she stayed consistently at the CEO, owner and marketing director levels. As conducting informational interviews was a primary focus throughout this period, she scored several appointments with individuals outside of this direct line of referrals as well.

Here’s where good planning comes in. Job-seekers who are in a position to mount a slow, deliberate approach — such a college students approaching graduation or prospective career-changers already employed — can gain much ground through informational interviewing without the pressure of a frantic job search and actual job interviews. The process also provides invaluable practice in interview and interpersonal-communication skills that will boost the job-seeker down the line. Rothacker explains that Victoria got a job outside the circle of the informational interviews she conducted, but that the sessions had still been invaluable to her search:

Victoria’s adventure taught her how to talk with owners and executives. It taught her how to interview and how to be interviewed. It taught her how to talk about herself and it sharpened her listening and communication skills. It also provided a broad, invaluable glimpse into the real world of business – one that most young people do not have the advantage of before starting their career. Finally, and in Victoria’s case, it provided one very powerful caveat: many of the people who Victoria interviewed with, turned out to people in authority of companies whom she needed to conduct business with in her new position.

Rothacker titles the blog post “The Story Seeker,” and indeed, one of the most valuable aspects of informational interviewing is that it enables the job-seeker not only to collect the stories of her interviewees but to share her own. Through this story exchange, an emotional connection is established, and both interviewer and interviewee become memorable to each other. Victoria maintained contact with her informational-interviewees long after she got a job.

I became an evangelist for informational interviewing after my students experienced remarkable results with them. One semester I gathered metrics that showed 21 percent of my roughly 100 students had received job or internship offers through informational interviewing. Not a high number, but impressive when you consider that getting offers isn’t even the purpose of the process

Based on that experience, I wanted to write a book about informational interviewing. My publisher found the topic too narrow, so I ended up writing a book about networking (A Foot in the Door), with about a third of it dedicated to the story-gathering process that is informational interviewing. I cannot recommend informational interviewing highly enough. Those who’d like to try it can check out my tutorial, one of the links I most often share with job-seekers.

For his part, Rothacker has created a Facebook page, Standing out in a Sea of Sameness, which he describes this way:

Standing out in a Sea of Sameness is where students come to learn about storytelling, to learn how to solve problems, make new stuff and make stuff better and more pleasing by developing a mindset and following a process. It’s about how to stand out from their peers.