Informational interviews are excellent tools for gathering intelligence: about a company or a particular role in terms of its purpose and scope, to assess the caliber of your competition, or to get a better feel for key personalities and company culture. Such interviews are initiated by YOU. They can occur in places you already work and want to advance further.
You can reach out to people in organizations of interest to you. Informational interviews can occur in person, on the phone, by e-mail - and can be as short as 5 minutes or last over an hour. In any case, you need to listen far more than you speak in an informational interview scenario. This is an exercise in information gathering, not selling yourself. You don't know how best to sell your own talents until you know what their needs are. Don't jump ahead.
The goal is to gather enough information so that you can follow up with your resume and cover letter, making a case for them to consider you for current and future positions of particular interest. Be specific, not general, in that second-phase outreach. Casting a wide net within a single organization actually dilutes your efforts.
Phone screening is a common interview technique. It saves both time and money while helping to narrow down the applicant pool for an open position. You need to prepare for a phone screen as much as you would for a formal interview. It starts when they call you to set up a mutually convenient time. Always be at the ready: have a professional tone of voice when answering calls; have a short and professional outgoing message on your voicemail (no music). If you don't recognize the number calling and are actively job searching, let the call go to voicemail to ensure you respond appropriately. Keep a listing handy of where you've applied and for what position so you can reference it quickly and with confidence. Know your calendar.
Once scheduled, do as much research as possible in addition to preparing yourself to answer questions. Look up the company website, understand their mission, and read the position description very carefully to note which items are strengths or weaknesses for you. Rehearse your answers to all common interview questions (widely available online). During the call, take advantage of the ability to have materials in front of you to reference at any point. The phone screen's objective is to clarify that you have the qualifications required (and desired) for the job, including work ethic and personality traits.
Your goal is to convey that your skills are exactly what they are looking for, right now. If you are successful in doing so, they will talk to you about the next interview phase - either that day or within a few days of the screening call.
Formal, In-person Interviews:
This will be scheduled in advance. During the scheduling call, learn about dress code, what materials to bring with you, who you will be meeting with and their role, directions to their location, and how much time to expect to be there. Is your interview primarily with HR or will the hiring manager also be there? Will potential team members and co-workers be present? The more people you are scheduled to meet, the better your chances of success because they would not coordinate that many people if your qualifications were in question. Your goal is to be well-versed in the position details, to give concrete examples of previous successes that have prepared you for this role, and to come across as intelligent and likable. There are numerous sites online dedicated to helping you prepare for formal interviews; check them out! This includes not only how to best answer questions, but to sketch out your success stories in advance, and to ensure your presentation style is as free from flaws and distractions as possible.
This may be the second or third time you connect with HR, the hiring manager, and potential colleagues within the prospective organization. You may meet them individually, in small groups, or as a larger panel - be sure to ask in advance what to expect. It is possible, especially for entry-level positions, that your first formal interview will also constitute the final round. What you ultimately want to convey is that the position description is well understood, and that you have the necessary resources to succeed in the role. And if you do not have all the resources you think you will need, negotiate for them during the offer phase. Beyond that, make it very clear that you are ready, willing, and able to do the job - and that you are eager to get started.
With any type of interview, be sure to genuinely thank each person who took time out of their day to meet with you. A personal, hand written note is still an extra nice touch. To do so, collect the business cards of everyone you meet. Make it a habit.
You can do this! Good luck!
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