You have connected with someone you believe could be helpful in executing your career strategy. They have agreed to what is known as an informational meeting. The challenge is to capture full value from that meeting. The job interview gets you the job; however, the informational meeting gets you the job interview.
There are two objectives in an informational meeting:
- Secure referrals into the other person’s network with the aim of getting to a decision-maker who can hire you.
- Get information that could be useful in other conversations and decision-making.
No one will refer you into their network unless they trust you – they need to be confident that you will not reflect poorly on them.
Psychologists tell us that the key to earning someone’s trust and confidence is to validate them as an expert by asking the sort of questions they can answer.
Eighty per cent of communication is non-verbal and includes things such as body language, eye contact, posture and energy. The key to successful meetings and interviews is preparedness. You cannot focus on the non-verbal elements of the communication process if you are thinking up answers to questions on the fly. You will lose eye contact and fidget in your chair, resulting in unfocused, rambling responses and the omission of important information.
If your meeting is virtual, prepare like you would for an in-person meeting. These conversations provide information and facts; however, they also offer insights into communication and logic skills. Be sure to dress appropriately; test your technology; practice your video-interview skills ahead of time and pay attention to how you sound. Don’t forget to maintain eye contact by looking at your camera – not the person on the screen. Start with a “digital” handshake by establishing eye-to-eye contact and exchanging pleasantries as you would in a face-to-face meeting. This is a conversation that can be compromised by bandwidth so be sure to let the other person finish speaking before you start talking. Be sure that your video call is not just limited to question-answer-question-answer. When your interviewer responds to your answers, feel free to comment on their responses to indicate that you are engaged and value what they have to say.
You are likely to be asked a number of questions, including:
- Tell me about yourself.
- Provide a two-to-three-minute snapshot of your background: where you were born, where you went to high school/college, what extra-curricular activities you were involved in, your career path to date – and add some personal details (such as volunteer work) that show another dimension of yourself.
- Tell me about your role at XYZ Organization.
- Provide some information on the organization – the nature of business, its scope, etc.
- Indicate the title of the person to whom you reported and who reported to you.
- Summarize what you accomplished in the role.
- What are your career goals?
- Start at your long-term goal and work backward
- What are your strengths/weaknesses?
- Provide examples for both and show how you have recognized your weaknesses and have taken steps to address them.
- Why are you interested in this role/organization/sector?
- Do your research – relate your interest in the organization to your career goals and strengths.
- How can I be helpful to you?
- What organizations and individuals would you suggest I connect with?
Now it is your turn – the other person is likely to ask you if you have questions for them. The questions you ask must be answerable by the person with whom you are speaking. Do not ask questions to which the answers can readily be found on their website.
Start at a high level and drill down:
- What, in your opinion, are the significant challenges facing this sector/industry?
- What are your goals for the organization/business unit/division/department/team?
- What are the barriers to achieving these goals?
- What differentiates this organization from its competitors?
If the person you are speaking with has been there for a while, ask about how the industry/organization has changed in their tenure. If they are new to the organization, ask about what drew them to it.
Do not ask about specific jobs or opportunities – that is a binary question. Do not ask about what they look for in candidates, as it may be interpreted as self-serving.
If several introductions are offered, accept them graciously. If individuals are referred to but no introductions have been offered, ask for them.
If no referrals have been offered, ask if you can contact them in a week. In a week, ask them if they have any thoughts and suggestions for you.
Stay in contact with everyone with whom you interact monthly, which will ensure that you stay top-of-mind, validate their trust and confidence in you and, perhaps, trigger other referrals. Send them an e-mail monthly that says that you are still on the hunt for the right opportunity; you have had some interesting conversations and more planned for the following weeks.
Well managed informational meetings will generate job interviews – and using the same principles in job interviews will lead to offers.
Peter Caven is the managing director of Launched Careers, a Toronto-based career advisory organization for young professionals. He is the Leadership Lab columnist for August, 2021.
This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about the world of work. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab and guidelines for how to contribute to the column here.
Stay ahead in your career. We have a weekly Careers newsletter to give you guidance and tips on career management, leadership, business education and more. Sign up today or follow us at @Globe_Careers.