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Home  > Article

Making the Most of Informational Interviews

By Robert Half
Robert Half International

If you're a professional in finance or accounting and are on the hunt for employment, you may have a difficult time obtaining job interviews in this unsettled economy. If you haven't done so before, you may want to consider conducting informational interviews.

This type of interview provides a rare opportunity to gain invaluable, up-to-date knowledge about the industry you're targeting from an "insider," and it can expand your network of contacts. In addition, it is typically easier to schedule an interview, since you aren't specifically asking for a job.

Following are tips on how to arrange, prepare for and conduct an informational interview.

Setting Up an Informational Interview? The first step is to identify people who have jobs that you find intriguing and inspiring. Be resourceful. Mine the Internet and read finance and accounting publications. Tell your family, friends, neighbors and colleagues about your interviewing endeavor and ask them for names of people with whom you should speak.

As you develop your list of potential contacts, send each person an introductory letter explaining your background, career goals, interests and what you hope to gain from the interview. Request 20 to 30 minutes of the person's time at their convenience. Be clear that you are seeking information only--not a job.

If the person is receptive to your request, ask for a face-to-face meeting at his or her workplace. While getting together for lunch or talking on the phone is beneficial, visiting the person's office will give you a better feel for the job.

Preparing for an Informational Interview? How much you take away from an informational interview depends largely on how thoroughly you prepare for the meeting.

Make sure you have read up on your interviewee and his or her organization. If you have not done so already, visit the company's website, paying particular attention to the "About" section, staff biographies and the company's latest press releases. Reviewing company literature such as brochures and annual reports also will provide helpful background.

Formulate a list of open-ended questions you intend to ask. A few examples might include:

  • What do you like most/least about your job?
  • What is your typical day like?
  • What emerging trends do you see affecting the industry in the next five years?
Also show the person that you've done your homework by preparing questions that specifically relate to his or her career path, if you have been able to gather that information. Here's an example: "I read in the Journal of Accountancy that you started this business when you were just 26. How did you do it? What lessons did you learn?"

Conducting an Informational Interview? Conduct your informational interview as you would any important business meeting. Dress professionally and arrive early.

When asking questions, listen closely to the person's responses and make eye contact. Also, be willing to go "off script." While you want to be mindful of his or her time, if the interviewee begins to follow an interesting tangent, go with the flow. This will help you establish a more natural rapport.

Before ending the conversation, you may want to ask the person for suggestions of other finance and accounting professionals who would be beneficial to interview.

Building the Relationship? After the interview, immediately send an e-mail thanking the person for his or her time. Follow up with a handwritten note that goes into greater detail about the information or advice you gained from the meeting. As time goes on, continue to strengthen the relationship by keeping your interviewee apprised of developments in your career. You never know how and when he or she might be able to help you again, or you might be able to assist your new contact down the line.

An informational interview can provide you with insight, guidance and professional connections that cannot be gained through other means. If you are searching for a job, consider what you may gain from arranging a few of these short but valuable meetings.

Robert Half International was founded in 1948. Its financial staffing divisions include Accountemps, Robert Half Finance & Accounting and Robert Half Management Resources.  The company has more than 360 staffing locations worldwide and offers online job search services,

Founded in 1948, Robert Half Finance & Accounting, a division of Robert Half International Inc., the world's largest specialized financial recruiting service and a leading authority on workplace and management trends. The company has more than 350 offices throughout North America, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific region. Learn more at

Copyright 2008 Robert Half International. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without prior written authority.

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