How to excel during an informational interview

Use this great opportunity to find out about company culture and show your skills to potential employers

An informational interview is an opportunity for job seekers to get advice on their career, the industry and the corporate culture of a potential future workplace; while HR learn more about the job seeker and is able to judge their professional potential and fit to the corporate culture, thereby building their candidate pool for future hires.

David Schwab, Senior Vice President at global sports-and-entertainment marketing firm Octagon, shared his top tips with Forbes to help make you become a more viable candidate. Here is his advice:

  1. Know how to differentiate yourself

There may be hundreds of candidates applying for the job you want.  You’re going to need to set yourself apart from the crowd.  Shcwab suggests that HR asks candidates to tell them something about themselves that’s not on their CV – he also expects their answers to be straightforward and substantive.  He strongly advises you avoid saying you love a certain field or discipline, instead, describe what your skill is, what you can solve and what you might create. For those coming straight out of school, no one expects you to have 10 years of experience, but employers will still want to know how you think you can help their business and how you communicate your talents.

  1. Think on your feet 

An important life skill to master… the ability to pivot based on the question or situation shows that a candidate has the aptitude and confidence to succeed in a number of professions. So even if you are out of school or in an entry level job, taking an improv class at the local theatre or university could be a fantastic avenue to explore and help teach some great conversational skills.

  1. Check your social media profiles

Social media is one of the top interview tools.  However, you need to use it wisely.  LinkedIn and Twitter are excellent places to build a conversation or share industry-relevant news as this is where the professional online workplace community lives.  If you have an expertise or love that is visual in nature, build an Instagram account or display your portfolio via Pinterest. If you have great content, you’ll build a great following. This type of activity helps to differentiate you as a candidate and can help propel you onto an employers’ shortlist. Also, don’t just use LinkedIn as a digital CV, the platform provides excellent tools to organise and showcase your work including a portfolio of projects which can be linked directly within your profile.

Keep your profiles up to date and ensure your feeds are appropriate for an employer to see. Many employers will look at a candidate’s social media as a gauge of social know-how, and as an indicator of how that candidate would handle themselves in professional situations.

  1. Respect their time, but make it work for you

Ask the contact for just 15 minutes of their time.  Everyone has 15 minutes to spare and you’ll be more likely to secure a meeting.  Schwab suggests offering to start the call or in-person coffee as early as 7:00 a.m. local time for them (even if you live in a different time zone), as executives would prefer to conduct informationals before clients start calling.

Make sure you’ve done your research before the interview. Study the business and personal social handles of your interviewers. Know them, understand their role and talk about things they like or may have posted recently. It shows that you’ve done your homework and will lead to a more substantive discussion.

And since you have only asked for 15 minutes, make sure you to stick to it.

  1. Always look for learning opportunities

Mentorship is an excellent way to grow, learn and connect with others across your industry, but it takes effort from both parties. Be prepared with questions, observations and ideas a mentor can respond to. Remember, it is not who you know, but who knows you. Getting on people’s radar is absolutely essential to job success. Never stop reading and learning. There is nearly unlimited free information across the web.  You will never regret learning about a new technology or emerging platform – and these are fantastic topics to bring up in interviews.

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