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Q and A Block LettersInformational interviews can be a terrific way to explore career paths, companies of potential interest, and specific types of work. But they’re also a great opportunity to build your network, professional reputation, and insider insights about specific employers while – if you approach them thoughtfully and with advance preparation.

How to Make the Most of Your Interview
You know that you never, ever use an informational interview as a sideways approach to landing a job interview – basically, that’s the fastest way to get bounced out the door. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t reap other cool benefits from your informational interviews.

For example, informational interviews can help you:

Build your professional reputation.  Informational interviewing gives you an opportunity to impress someone with your professional, mature demeanor. So be prepared with thoughtful questions, be on time if not a few minutes early to your meeting, dress professionally, take notes when your contact provides you with advice and counsel, listen way more than you talk, and always follow up with a thank-you note.

Build your professional network.  Every time you come into contact with someone in your profession (or the profession you’re working towards), you want to capture that connection. That’s how you start building the professional network that will sustain you over a multitude of career changes, and potentially open up a similar number of career opportunities. So after you’ve impressed your contact with how professional you are (and sent your thank-you note), follow up shortly with a request to connect on LinkedIn so you can stay in touch.

Learn how the company hires.  One of the most important questions to ask in an informational interview or job shadow is “how did you get your job?” If you’re potentially interested in working for the employer in question, this will give you an indication of how they hire (for example, through a recruiter, based on resumes submitted online, via internal referrals, etc.) for future reference.

Get a feel for the company culture.  When you ask people what they like most/least about their job, their answers may have more to do with their employer than the actual work they do. Try to distinguish between the two, so you can understand what responses indicate a positive or toxic organizational culture if you’re potentially interested in this employer. (However, keep in mind that in large companies the “corporate culture” can vary by department and boss.)

Get a competitive sense of the industry – and additional employers/job opportunities.  One of the questions you can ask during an informational interview or job shadow is who your contact sees as his or her employer’s main competition. Although you would never disclose any information about the company that your contact shared with you, that doesn’t mean that you can’t use what you’ve learned to understand what type of job or career you might want to pursue with a different company in the same industry.

Ready to start exploring your LIS career options? Now’s a great time to start lining up some informational interviews and reaping those benefits!