Informational Interviews

In the previous issue, I described how to narrow down the list of companies you want to work for. This is a critical part of the investigative stage of your job hunt. This issue, I’ll discuss the process of interviewing individuals at the companies you are researching. Note that you are not asking for a job at this point – you are simply trying to find out as much as you can about the company and what they do. It is important, therefore, to keep the meeting brief – usually no more than 15 to 20 minutes. Ideally, you want to interview the person who has the authority to hire you, such as a technical writing manager or VP of Development.

Before you approach the company, you should have done as much research as possible. You need to have a good knowledge of what the company does and be able to anticipate what their documentation requirements might be. The questions you want to ask, therefore, should be those which give you information that is not publicly available or common knowledge. In a sense, you have to be a bit of a reporter and detective – figuring out the company’s needs, wants and current problems.

You might ask:

  • What kinds of documents do you produce?
  • Are there any documents that you would like to offer that you currently do not?
  • What changes, if any, would you like to see in your documentation?
  • What software tools are you currently using?

Note that these are also questions you can ask at a job interview, in order to show that you are interested in the company and its challenges, and are not simply there to find out what they can do for you.

If appropriate, you can share your experience with similar projects or problems. But don’t be too aggressive on these points – remember, you are not asking for a job.

Like a job interview, you should also be prepared for questions that they may ask you directly or indirectly, such as:

  • Why are you here?
  • What can you do for us?
  • How have you added value in the past?
  • Why should we be interested in you?
  • What are your future plans?

After the interview, it’s important to send a thank you note (or email) within one day.

The point of this whole process is to get critical “face time” with potential employers. Companies are much more willing to hire people who have shown initiative and who they have actually met. That is why this method of job hunting (contacting companies directly) has about an 85% success rate.

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