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It’s a tough job market out there. With the unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds at 16 percent, scores of college educated young professionals are struggling to find work.

Here’s the good thing: There’s something very simple you can do to set yourself apart from the competition. It’s called the informational interview.

What Is An Informational Interview?

An informational interview is simply meeting with someone you can learn from. It could be with someone who has a job that you aspire to have in the future. Or, it could be with the individual that works for a company you’d like to learn more about. Maybe, it’s a person who has encountered similar challenges that you have yet they still found success. The key is that you can learn from them and their expertise. (How I used ‘Coffee & Cocktails’ early in my career to stand out.)

How To Get An Informational Meeting

Whether you know it or not, you have a network. You’re probably just not using it to your advantage.

Your network includes your family, friends and current and past colleagues. This also includes powerful networks like your alma mater alumni association and LinkedIn. Many people are just a phone call, e-mail, referral or click away.

Once you identify people to contact, simply reach out with an e-mail or phone call. Introduce yourself and advise how you came across them and tell them a little about yourself. From there, ask for 15 minutes of their time for an informational interview. It’s imperative that you make this meeting as convenient and easy for them as possible.

The good thing I learned early in my career is people love to talk about themselves. So though everyone won’t say yes your request, I believe a high percentage will respond if you’re clear about what you want.

Dos and Don’ts

Once you secure the informational, prepare as much as possible. Learn as much about the individual, their background and their work. This also includes learning about their company and industry. And have great questions ready.

During the meeting, your job is to make it all about them. They should talk the majority of the time. You are there to learn. To be a sponge. This isn’t about you. But when they do ask about you, be ready to talk about your personal brand.

This may be the most important thing you read in this post: Don’t not ask for a job during an informational interview. You immediately will lose any good will you built with the person.

Two Things To End With

At the end of the meeting, always ask, “Is there anyone else you think I should meet with?” This question shows that you’re hungry and that you want to learn. Nine times out of 10, if you impressed them by your preparation and questions, they will refer you to someone for another informational. Recommendations are critical. Why? Because when someone refers you, you are deemed “safe.” You’re not some random person reaching out to them.

Second, make sure to send a hand written thank you card. This goes a long way and you’ll stand out in a crowd. Sure you can send an e-mail but as I always tell my coaching clients, “don’t be delete-able.”

The Benefits of The Informational

The great thing about informationals is that you increase awareness of your brand. You establish and expand your network and community. This can lead to other introductions and invitations to events and conferences. In short, you’re building trust.

With networking, it’s important to take a long term approach. An approach where you’re wiling to give and be an asset to others instead of going in expecting something. This goes a long way.

Good networkers network when they don’t need anything. And when they do, say a job, it’s that much easier to find one.

Antonio Neves is a career coach, an award-winning broadcast journalist, and the founder of THINQACTION, an organization dedicated to young professionals.

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