I’d like to talk about a job-hunting technique that can bring tremendous results, but one that very few people actually take advantage of: information interviews.

Unlike traditional job interviews, information interviews aren’t the usual headache-inducing, clammy-handed stress tests. Because the difference here is, you’re the one doing the interviewing! You’re in control, not them. Sound good?

It is. It’s not easy, either – but the effort is worth it. The basic idea is to set up short, informal interview meetings with people you would either like to work for, or people who currently hold jobs you would like to have.

  • Pick five or six people in these positions, research their companies as if you had a job interview there, and then contact them by email or (even better) phone.
  • A personal connection is a great introduction, if you have it.
  • Tell them that you’re interested in learning more about the industry/field they are in. If it comes up, reassure them that you’re not asking for a job, just doing research.
  • Tell them it will take 30 minutes of their time, at most. Have a couple of specific areas ready you would like to talk to them about when you meet.

This strategy does involve a bit of cold calling, which can be intimidating. But here’s the secret: People love to talk about themselves. As long as you make it clear that you’re not contacting them to ask for a job, but sincerely want to learn more about the career they’ve devoted themselves to, lots of doors will open.

Treat the meeting like a job interview – dress appropriately, and instead of having answers at the ready, have lots of intelligent questions based on your research. The better your questions, the better impression you’ll make, and the more useful responses you’ll get.

The phone can work for information interviews too. People are busy, and if they are in another city, it might be the only feasible way to do the interview.

Chances are you haven’t ever been on the other side of the interview desk before. That’s OK. You don’t have to be Katie Couric for this to work. Just think of them as the most interesting person at a party, who has a fascinating story to tell. Ask them enough questions to get the whole story.

After you’ve had your information interview, ask your subject if there are other people in the field they would recommend you talk to for more ideas. Again, do not make this about a job. But asking for referrals can plug you into other people’s networks in a casual, and thus more effective, way.

Immediately after the interview, send your subject a quick note. Trust me – don’t skip this step. Even better, in a couple of months send them a followup note. Keep the relationship going, in a low-key way. And the next time they hear about an opening, they just might contact you.

Once you do this a few times, it will become second nature. As a side benefit, you’ll learn more about the industry you want to work in and become more confident when you have the other kind of job interview.

I won’t lie – this takes some gumption. It’s much easier to hide behind your keyboard. But getting out there and interacting with people in your field one-on-one is worth 500 LinkedIn status updates.