"Taken together, your networks form a rich tapestry."

source: Douglas B. Richardson, National Business Employment Weekly: Networking, 1994, p. 16


Initial Impression Forms Quickly

How do I start the conversation in an informational or networking interview? That provocative question was posed to me one semester by a genuinely concerned student. You start by introducing yourself. You start by going dressed for success. At the appropriate time (usually a cue from the interviewee) you offer your hand for shaking. Shake "web to web" and count in your head to three. Don't press the hand so limply or strongly you create the incorrect impression. You wait until invited to sit, unless an awkward moment presents itself. Then, you again take your cue from the interviewee. You explain your purpose in being there. You explain it may be a school assignment, and, especially, you are seeking advice.

Advice comes in all forms. Do you want to know about the future of the profession, industry, or organization? Do you want how this person got started? Do you want to know what it will take in college to get ready for a position similar to that person's? Do you want to know what personal work traits you need to possess to emulate the individual you are interviewing? All these questions buzz around in your head, and form the basis for being in that office or that restaurant.

About three quarters of the way through the interview, you produce your resume and ask if it would be possible to look it over. Take copious notes on what the interviewee says. Plan to ask for at least two names of other people in the profession or industry and a way to get in touch with them. Don't leave the interview without that person's business card.

You should have a successful interview. Be sure to write that person a thank-you letter, preferably within two days after the interview. Shake hands with the person at the conclusion of the interview, and thank the individuals for their time. If you promise to send a clipping or something else, follow up on that promise immediately. People will appreciate your considerateness.

Informational Interviewing Requires Structure

When you prepare for a networking or informational interview, you need a series of steps:

This link is devoted, as you can see, to helping you do a better job of interviewing and collecting the data you actually need. First, we need to consider the importance of questions. As this link develops, I will provide examples of questions from various sources to make your job easier. Obviously, you need to conceive certain questions that relate to a specific interviewee. These questions will only serve as a guide to the numerous questions you will eventually ask. Remember, you need enough questions for about a 45-minute interview. You need in-depth questions and open-ended as well as closed-end questions.

Our first list of questions will come from The Job Doctor: Good Advice on Getting a Good Job by Phil Norris (Indianapolis, Indiana: JIST Works, Inc., 1990):

  1. How much security does this job have?
  2. Does this type of job require any previous experience in another line of work?
  3. What is the best thing a person could do to prepare to enter this field?
  4. What kind of future is there for this type of job or industry?
  5. What is the growth potential for this particular job in this particular industry?
  6. Where will the most significant growth occur?
  7. What mixture of talent, education, work experience, or other preparation would best enable me to enter this field?
  8. Who actually has the authority to hire qualified individuals for this job?
  9. Is there much competition for this type of job?
  10. How do you find out when job openings occur?
  11. What is the starting salary (an average) for this type of job?

    Please consider: The interviewee may not answer this question, because the information is proprietary.

  12. What is the typical salary after five years?
  13. What are the pros and cons of working for a large or small company?
  14. Is there anything that I could do now, if I decide to pursue this line of work, that would give me a head start?
  15. If you had to do it over again, would you choose this line of work?
  16. What corporate culture does the company possess? How does a person fit in?
  17. How did you become a success in this organization?
  18. What weaknesses did you have to overcome to become a success in this organization?
  19. How does this organization or company measure success?
  20. What courses or classes would you recommend I take now to later work for an organization like this?
  21. If you were to do it again, would you go to work for an organization like this? Please explain.
  22. What did you learn on the job that you were never taught in school? Please give some examples.
  23. How does this company/organization feel about your putting in long hours on the job? What is its attitude toward the work ethic?

    Different books emphasize different points in interviewing. The National Business Employment Weekly has prepared a series of books on resumes, interviewing, cover letters, and interviewing. In the book on Networking the author, Douglas B. Richardson, poses a series of informational interviewing questions under selected headings:

    The Product (You)

  24. Is my frame of reference clear to you? Does my prior career path make sense?
  25. In light of my frame of reference (F.O.R.), is my job search objective clear? Is it realistic? Have I articulated my areas of technical skills (TSs) clearly? Have I provided clear and convincing examples of my experience and transferable abilities (TAs)?
  26. Is there anything about my prior employment history or present circumstances that you think might create problems or issues for potential employers?
  27. What skills, abilities, and personal qualifications do you think are most desirable in high-performing people at my level in my field?

    Please think about: The previous questions suggest you have shown your resume to the interviewee at the time of the interview. You must do it. I would urge you to have a job objective and a job summary placed on the resume before submitting to the informational interviewee.

    The General Market (Job Market)

  28. What general economic, operational, and employment trends to you see in the industry? Who are the industry leaders? Why?

    Please think about: Your interviewee should assume you have done some homework about the industry or profession you want to enter upon graduation.

  29. What sort or size of company do you think would be most interested in skills and experience like mine? Why?
  30. How would you characterize the prospects for advancement for someone like me right now? What factors do you think most affect growth and advancement?
  31. What do you see as the long-term trends or prospects in my field?
  32. What are the best sources (directories, periodicals, databases, associations, texts, and so forth) to find out more about what's going on in this area? Do you know of anyone who has a broad perspective of my field besides yourself? Would it make sense for me to talk with that person?

    Targeting Specific Leads

  33. Are you personally familiar with any companies in this area, or with individuals in any of these companies?
  34. Have you heard of any events or development that suggest a particular company might have a need for someone like me?
  35. What have you heard about the company (in terms of reputation, market share, profitability, hiring trends, management style or "culture," job security, strategic plans, effect of external factors or conditions)?

    Networking Memo Requires Thought

    Once you have had completed your informational interview, you are ready to write the networking memo. The memo should include:

    Real Example Now Occurs

    Students continue to ask for an example of an actual networking memo from previous years. I will try to provide that example, recognizing the limitations of writing in HTML.

    To:              Professor Christensen
    From:            Mary R. Student 
    Date:            Current

    This memorandum tells you about my recent interview with Henny McDonald, an attorney practicing tax and family law. The interview took approximately 45 minutes and was held at the law offices of Schnosy, McDonald, and Crucial. The law offices are located in Century City, California.

    Interview Teaches Relevant Information

    The interview took place Monday, September 30, 19-, before work at 8:30 a.m. We spoke about her background, job and advice. This conversation was especially helpful to me, because I am considering going to law school and would like to be in a position similar to hers within the next 10 years (assuming the finishing of school within five years). The next paragraphs contain specific learnings from the interview.

    Hard Work Starts Early

    From age four to sixteen, Henny worked in the acting industry. At 19, while attending a community college, she worked at J.C. Penney. She, then, was employed as a secretary for an insurance company. While in the elevator on her way to work one morning, a secretary, whose office was above the insurance company, offered her a job. Henny accepted the job, because she had done research and discovered legal secretaries made more money and had more stability in their jobs than any other secretaries. Ms. McDonald worked as a legal secretary for this attorney for three years for what she affectionately calls, "two fish heads and a bowl of rice."

    Mother Attends Law School

    Henny took a 50 percent pay cut when she moved onto a large firm. She worked at Castle, Nicherson, and Percy as a litigation secretary until she became pregnant with her first daughter. After her second daughter, and final child, was born, Henny reported, "she analyzed the situation." Henny had worked as a legal secretary for 13 years and did most of what the attorneys did without the recognition or pay. She decided to go to a small law school, which is now called LaVerne. She chose this school because it was the closest to home and accepted her; she did not possess a college education at this time.

    Professor Christensen
    Page 2
    Current Date

    Firms Provide Necessary Experience

    This lawyer attended law school full-time for three years; she graduated first in her class and passed the Bar the first time it was taken. She went to work for Nemamek and Coleson to gain experience in litigation. In the newspaper this talented person saw an opening for a managing attorney for the United Fabric Workers, Van Nuys plan, which was to be closed. Five hundred applicants were seeking this position. Henny got the job because the interviewer was reminded of his grandmother. At United Fabric, Henny learned management while gaining an institutional client. When the plant shut, she opened her own practice, and became a Cooperating Attorney for United Fabric Service Plan. In that way, this attorney kept a client base and "kept the lights on."

    Partners Make Decisions

    Henny compared being employed in a firm with owning her own practice. In a firm the attorney is a "white slave." Henny didn't get paid for overtime, but she was expected to work seven days per week and do whatever was necessary to help the partners. A firm requires more stablity than one's own practice, because a set salary is received. However, nothing is absolute. The income remains less secure during downsizing and layoffs.

    Another phase of working for a firm Henny did not like was conforming to the partners' standards. The partners often had a "God complex." She was not given the opportunity to have contact with clients, and she was told what to do. Attorneys pigeon-holed her into one task, which led to personal problems, such as alcoholism. Additionally, the politics of the office were set by the partners, and sexual harassment did occur.

    Freedom Proves Beneficial

    When working for her own practice, Henny still had to do whatever was necessary, but she decided what was necessary. She initiated the ability to accept or reject cases. She also was not required to work around the partners' schedules; she could wash her kitchen floor before coming to work a particular morning. However, when asked about the last weekend she didn't do any work at the office, Henny couldn't remember when that occurred. Ms. McDonald informed a client, for example, about the status of his case at the Swing Line Dance last night. She also comes in on Saturdays to check the mail and the e-mail.

    Other benefits Henny noted in her practice included flexibility of the dress code and performing varying duties. As the boss, Henny remained multitalented. She attracted clients, ran the accounting department, and so forth. Ms. Henny also had to make sure the need of her employees were met before she could take a paycheck.

    Professor Christensen
    Page 3
    Current Date

    United Fabric Gives Incentives

    In Ms. McDonald's opinion, the United Fabric Service Plans reduced the risk of opening her own business. She knew 50 percent of businesses fail within the first year. Henny also knew, to build a client base, she would initially have to take disliked cases. The United Fabric employment gave her the security to make the change to a sole proprietorship.

    Experience Teaches Lessons

    Henny advised others starting a practice to do the following: