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How to get information, insight and, hopefully, a foot in the door.

Breakthrough Blueprint

The how-to guide to your career success

How to get information, insight and, hopefully, a foot in the door.

I reckon one of the best ways to get all of the above is with an “information interview”. As the name suggests, this is an interview – a simple chat – where you ask people for information about their career, company and any job advice they might like to offer. And if you’re looking to find out more about a new career or industry, this is a great place to start.

Unlike a job interview, where the stakes are much higher and you’re trying to win a role in their company, an information interview is much more easy-going and relaxed. I’m a big fan of the information interview because it’s informal and there are no expectations from either side.

Furthermore, people in the industry are more likely to give you an information interview, rather than a job interview, because it costs them nothing.

When you approach people for an information interview, make it clear you’re not after anything except for information and advice. They are going to be more responsive than if you’re hoping for something more – like a job or part-time work. If they think you’re ultimately looking for a job, they’re not as likely to meet up with you unless a position is actually available.

Furthermore, people tend to be flattered when they are asked for advice from someone who is still trying to establish their career. If you go about it the right way, you’ll usually get a positive response.

Maintaining valuable contacts
You don’t have to be a student to ask for an information interview. They work well whether you’re a full-time student or already in the workforce. You can learn a lot from the person you’re chatting to. But don’t just use them for information and never contact them again. After your interview, send them a note or an email thanking them for their time.

Then drop them a line occasionally letting them know how you are going, or ask them for advice again if any new issues crop up or if you are faced with some career or course decisions you’d like help with.

The point is to maintain them as a valuable contact. It takes no time at all to send an email or make a phone call and this reminds them of you. You’ve heard the saying ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know’. Well, there’s quite a bit of truth in that. While you can get ahead without having an address book full of contacts, it does make it easier if you know people in the industry you want to work in.

Remember not to be perturbed if you don’t know anyone at all right now. It doesn’t take long to make – and maintain – useful contacts. Use information interviews as an easy way to connect with someone. Even if it doesn’t lead to your dream job, they may refer you to someone else in the industry who can help you.

Valerie Khoo

Valerie Khoo is CEO of the Australian Writers’ Centre, one of the world’s leading centres for writing courses. She contributed to Fairfax for 13 years and has held senior editorial roles at ACP (now Bauer), Pacific Magazines and EMAP. She was editor of Business Chick’s Latte magazine for five years and regularly writes for corporate and consumer titles. Valerie began her career in chartered accounting at PwC before moving into public relations, journalism and then entrepreneurship. She is co-host of the podcast “So you want to be a writer”, recently listed as one of the top 30 podcasts for writers in the world, and “So you want to be a photographer”. Valerie is also a mentor with the Australian Businesswomen’s Network.