Show appreciation when you are given a gift. An informational interview is a gift to a job seeker or a curious soul. You will surface the data you need to support your career transition if you focus your efforts on figuring out how to best express your appreciation to an interviewee. This happens because you need to do homework to learn what an interviewee would deem valuable, specifically you need to; a) learn about your contact, b) where they work, and c) who they work with BEFORE you meet them.
What to learn about your contact. Search the web, if your efforts are unfruitful then find their job description using a company or job website. Aim to learn about the projects that your contact (for example, let’s say you are meeting with someone named Mary) works on to better prepare your questions, where she has worked to see if you have anything in common, and her top skills so that you can refer to the ones you share as part of your own professional story. A good question to ask using this data is: “what skills do you think make you a better associate/team member in your firm or within the context of your current assignment?”. With these skills in mind, consider who you know that is a relevant expert. For example, if financial modeling is critical then introduce her to your modeling professor. Your interviewee can gain tips from your professor and your “prof” can see how practitioners are applying concepts. This is a double expression of appreciation.
What to learn about her employer. Specifically, identify the firm’s competitors. Understand if the company is the “Coke”, “Pepsi”, or a lower tier player in its industry to become better versed in its special challenges. If the firm is the #1 player then offer thoughtful suggestions of #1 players in other industries that have tackled similar challenges to those Mary is attempting to solve. If the firm is the #2 player than suggest strategies (e.g. social media or pursuing a niche) that other #2 players have leveraged to distinguish their offerings. Meanwhile, if your contact’s firm is a lesser known player then offer informed ideas on how your contact can capitalize on external opportunities within the confines of her job.
What to learn about her colleagues. Find the “rainmakers” in Mary’s firm. They are executive team members, leaders of growing regions, those managing P&Ls, and board of directors. Also seek this data via LinkedIn…see who has impressive professional results listed on their profile. Chances are Mary won’t know that for instance, Gabriel started out as a cashier at Target and is now the EVP of merchandising. This data can serve you well by increasing your contact’s IQ immediately. Then after the informational interview, see if you know ANYONE that could bring your contact closer to these rainmakers. This would be an amazing way to show your appreciation for your contact’s time and brain cells. How would you want someone to show their appreciation to you…if you offered them an informational interview?