In this series, we’re exploring informational interviews. If you’re not familiar with the concept, be sure to read part 1 of this series, which covers the basics.
For now, let’s look at who you should ask for an informational interview and how to make the request.
Who to Ask
Previously, you learned that the point of this tactic is to interview someone who has the information you want or need to make a well-informed career decision. So, it follows that the person you ask should have that information.
If you’re curious to know what it takes to be a successful executive recruiter, for example, you want to speak to a successful executive recruiter. Even better, try to speak to several so you can get a variety of perspectives. The more directly involved someone is in the career you’re exploring, the more useful their information will be.
But how do you find these people?
First, search your existing network. Start with the people you know, then consider the people they might know. LinkedIn is a wonderful resource for this as you can easily see your 2nd and 3rd degree connections. While you don’t know these people directly, you can always ask your 1st degree connections to make a warm introduction.
If that doesn’t work, try attending professional association meetings and events within the field you are exploring. This is a great way to meet people who might be a match for what you need. Don’t be afraid to explain your interest and why you’re there. You’ll frequently find that people are eager to share their perspectives when you show a sincere desire to hear them.
If all else fails, PivotPlanet is an interesting online resource you may want to try. This website allows you to connect virtually with an online advisor in the field you’re researching for a small fee. At the time of this writing, they have a very robust list of advisors from a wide array of fields.
How to Make the Request
Once you’ve identified the person or people you want to ask, you’re ready to request an informational interview. If this is someone you don’t know well, it’s totally normal to feel a little awkward. But don’t let that deter you. Sure, you’re asking for a favor, but it’s not an exceptionally strenuous one. Your job is to make it easy for people to say “yes” to your request.
To do that, start by reminding the person of how you know one another—if you share a mutual acquaintance or if you met previously in the past, for example. Then, be very clear right up front about what you’re seeking. You’re not looking for a job; you’re not looking to sell them anything. You just want to learn more about what they do because you’re exploring it as a potential career path for the future.
It never hurts to offer a little flattery as well. Explain why you think this person has valuable insights to share and why their perspective is important to you.
Most people love to talk about themselves and are happy to share their experiences with those whom they think it will help. But remember: People are also busy. Explain that you’re only looking for about 30 minutes of their time, max, and be willing to work around their schedule (as much as you can). Offer to come to them and bring their favorite coffee drink with you.
Be friendly in your request and do everything you can to show that you don’t want to impose or inconvenience them. At the same time, recognize that some people simply do not have the bandwidth to do these kinds of things, as much as they might like to. Don’t pester. Send one email request and follow up once if you don’t hear back, but then, move on.
It may take some persistence to find the right person who is open to helping you out, but it’s a worthwhile endeavor. Of course, when it happens, you want to make sure you don’t waste the opportunity. Stay tuned for the final part of our series on this topic where you’ll learn how to conduct an informational interview to get the most out of your time.