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Joining the military has a step-by-step process. You take your ASVAB, complete your physical, meet with a career counselor and, assuming everything is good to go, you move along and take the oath. However, finding a civilian job can be a little more complicated. Many veterans and civilians alike think the first step to finding a job is speaking to a recruiter or the HR department. But there is a crucial step to take before you do that, which will inform your job search and put you in a much better position when you apply.

If you’re not familiar with informational interviewing, you’re not alone. An informational interview is an informal conversation with somebody working in an area that interests you, with the purpose of learning more about their job, company, and employee experience. This is helpful in finding out if this job or company is right for you. Imagine if you got to speak with somebody in your future platoon and knew exactly what your future captain was like before enlisting. Pretty useful, right? It also connects you with a network of insiders who can champion you as a standout applicant.

The challenge is it can be hard to know who to reach out to for an informational interview, or where to find them. You’ll also need to have the right questions to ask to get the most out of your interview. So, let’s take a look at the steps you can take to set up an informational interview and make it a success, so you can grow a network of allies and showcase yourself as a proactive, well-informed candidate.

The best people to ask for informational interviews are those working in jobs you want at companies that interest you. They can share details of their work to help you evaluate your fit for that company and even for a specific job. This is the inside info that you can use to differentiate yourself from other candidates. Information like:

  • What makes people successful
  • What causes people to fail
  • Strengths and weaknesses of their team
  • High-priority projects
  • Problems they are solving
  • Likes and dislikes of their job or company
  • Organizational culture
  • What they really need in a new employee, beyond what is written in a job posting

LinkedIn is a good resource for finding the right person, but there are also hundreds of local chapters of professional associations and organizations for whatever your interest may be. Be sure to check out Veterati, which is geared specifically towards veterans looking for mentorship when it comes to their job search. It’s an excellent platform to request informational interviews.

Once you connect with somebody who agrees to an informational interview, you have to prepare. This person isn’t obligated in any way to give you their time, so it’s important to make the most of it. Before your scheduled informational interview, do some research into the industry, company, and person you’re meeting with. Think of some good, insightful questions, and stay away from anything you could find out in seconds by asking Alexa. At the end of the day, you want this person to support you, and being prepared will encourage them to do just that. Some solid questions will also give you knowledge other applicants don’t have, which could be your competitive advantage.

The last question you should ask, near the end of your conversation, or in follow-up correspondence is, “Is there anybody else in your organization I should speak with to learn more?” If you’ve proven to them that you are prepared and you made a good impression, this person may be inclined to make an introduction for you. So, make sure to close the conversation in a way that keeps increasing your network.

The purpose of informational interviewing is to gain insight, but also to gain allies. Do not ask for a favor during your informational interview. Approach your conversation like the curious person you are, and treat their time as valuable to gain credibility. Thank the person for their time, and as a closing, send a quick thank you follow-up email.

Informational interviews give you the inside track with useful information and language to include in your résumé as well as in your actual interview. This is information many other job seekers won’t have. And once you’ve had your informational interview and applied for the job, you’re now in a great position to reach out to those you’ve spoken with and give them the opportunity to advocate for you. Not everybody will respond to requests for informational interviews; that’s okay. Keep at it. No matter what you do, always remain proactive, professional, patient, and persistent.

Join Wells Fargo’s growing network of veterans, plus their allies, working together toward a common goal — helping customers succeed financially.  Learn more at wellsfargojobs.com/military.

This article is made possible by Wells Fargo.

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