Dealing with cancer usually causes you to think long and hard about how gratified you are in your job or career. Whether you are wondering if it’s time to look for a job similar to the one you have now or had before your diagnosis, or if you should be starting a business or changing careers completely, it’s important to gather as much information as possible.
If used well, an informational meeting is one of the most valuable resources. Why? Because it enables you to get an intimate perspective on someone's experiences and impressions in a much less stressful environment, compared with an actual job interview. It is a bit more structured than a networking meeting, without the pressure on the person you're speaking with to find you a job right away. Even so, sometimes an informational meeting does turn into an interview!
Here are some guidelines for arranging informational meetings, how to conduct yourself during one, and what to expect from it.
Know the kind of information you want, before you start asking people to meet with you. What, exactly, are you looking to find out? Do you want to better understand a particular job or career you’re considering? Do you want to learn how to write a blog or a book? Or how to start a business? Create a list of the questions you want to ask the person you meet with, so that you don’t forget anything. This will also help that person understand what information is most useful to you. You don’t want the conversation to wander — you want every minute to give you something valuable. Carefully screen and edit your questions ahead of time; you don’t want to bombard this person with more than he or she can answer adequately in the time you have. And yes, it’s okay to take notes during the meeting.
There are many resources for finding people to ask for informational meetings; use them all.
- Ask your friends and colleagues to make introductions.
- Go to a social networking site such as LinkedIn to find people to meet.
- Ask executive recruiters for referrals
- Search the websites of specific companies and identify people you’d like to meet with.
An informational meeting is an important business appointment. The person you are meeting with is taking his or her time to meet with you and share expertise, so be sensitive to that person’s needs and what’s convenient for him/her in terms of location and time. Be sure you know the person’s name and how to pronounce it and what his or her title is. Don’t waste this person’s time by being unprepared for the meeting.
Follow the same etiquette you would for any meeting. Show up on time and properly dressed. You don’t need to wear a suit, but don’t look as if you’ve just come from the beach. Be appreciative and attentive throughout, and don’t overstay your welcome.
Have realistic expectations. It isn’t often that an informational meeting turns into an actual interview or even leads to a direct contact who knows about an actual job opening. If this does happen, great; but it’s important to maintain realistic expectations. You may simply learn a few pieces of helpful information or be referred to another person, and this is okay.
Offer to help. Just as in any networking meeting, try to learn more about the person and his/her issues and challenges so that you can offer to introduce him/her to a useful contact or resource.
Remember this meeting can develop into a meaningful relationship. Don’t think of this informational interview as a onetime event. If you make the right impression and follow up, you can nurture the connection over a very long period of time — that’s the essence of networking.
Follow up. This bears repeating: Follow up and do not disappear over time. Send a succinct but sincere thank-you note or email, and if you promised to send something, do it! If the person referred you to someone else, update them on your progress in making that connection.
Don't worry if there isn't chemistry. Just as in networking, it’s impossible to click with everyone. If you didn’t feel a good connection, move on. (You must still follow up, however!)