Did you ever think you’d landed your dream position only to discover it was nothing like what you expected? This is precisely the problem that informational interviews prevent. If we want to advance in our careers or shift fields, connecting with individuals who already hold those positions is key.
What exactly is an informational interview? If you seek out a meeting like this one, you should not be trying to land a job, either directly or indirectly. Rather, you should simply be seeking more information on a field, a position, or an industry.
“It is an effective research tool and is best done after preliminary online research. It is not a job interview, and the objective is not to find job openings,” explains the University of California-Berkley.
Certainly, it’s not easy to ask strangers to give you advice. But the informational interview is an important factor in career planning, whether you’re actively seeking a new role or not. Here’s how to land an informational interview.
Focus on learning about the role – and building a relationship.
Even if you are hoping the informational interview leads to career opportunities, don’t be transparent about this goal. Instead, go into the interview with two interrelated goals in mind: understanding the ins and outs of the position and developing a long-term relationship with your contact.
If you have an ulterior motive in mind, you’re likely not to glean the information you wanted – as well as giving off the impression that you’re only talking to them to win a job.
Have a particular goal in mind for the interview long before it begins.
If you don’t have an objective in mind, the informational interview will almost certainly be meandering and unclear. So, be clear about what you want to learn.
Some ideas for information interview goals include:
- Learning about your contact’s career path and how their trajectory led them to their current position.
- Determining what skill set and work history your contact had to land your dream job.
- Understanding the industry and how someone might advance through the ranks in that field.
Use your connections if you have them.
If you know someone in a field or role that interests you, that’s your best bet to land an informational interview.
Here’s how to write that type of email:
Subject: Collecting Information About Your Position
I hope you’re doing well! If you remember, we met at the [conference/gathering/etc…], and you were kind enough to tell me about your role at [company]. As you know, I have been in [your position] at [company] for [years] and am interested in exploring new horizons. I am particularly interested in your [field/role] and would love to talk to you about [whatever your goal is].
If you have time to talk within the next month, I would love to meet for coffee or over Zoom. Let me know a few times that would be best for you, and I’ll make myself available! I’d love the opportunity to pick your brain about how I could [achieve my goal].
Thank you so much for considering! If there’s anything I can ever do for you, please don’t hesitate to ask.
Seek out a referral from someone you know.
What if you don’t directly know anyone in the field or position that interests you most? You can still boost your chances of connecting with this contact if you ask for a referral from someone you do.
For instance, let’s say you’ve found a relevant contact on LinkedIn. You don’t know this person, but you run in similar circles and have a few of the same contacts. A great idea is to reach out to your contact in common and ask you for a referral.
Here’s how to message that contact on LinkedIn to ask for the referral:
Subject: Referral for Informational Interview
I hope you’re doing well!
I’m writing because I am conducting informational interviews with [individuals in the field that interests you]. As you know, I am [your position], but I’m seeking to pivot into an industry that offers me more of an intellectual challenge.
As I was researching potential contacts on LinkedIn, I noticed that you were connected with [relevant contact.] I wonder if you could help me connect with [them]? I would love to pick their brain!
If you would be willing to connect us, please let me know – and, as always, let me know if there’s anything I can do for you!
Be persistent when “cold” emailing a contact with whom you have no connection.
Reaching out to someone you already know or seeking a referral can boost your chances of connecting with a relevant contact.
But it’s still very possible to schedule an informational interview with someone completely outside of your LinkedIn circle. The key here is persistence. Whether you reach out to them on LinkedIn or social media, write them every few weeks asking them to meet with you. As long as you’re not writing every few days, continued diligence demonstrates persistence; it doesn’t annoy people.
So, what should a “cold call” email look like?
Subject: Requesting an Informational Interview with You
My name is [your name], and I am seeking a career shift into [their role/field/industry]. As I was researching this career path, your name came up. I was extremely impressed by your [white paper, speech, idea, acquisition, etc…] and wanted to talk to you more about your career trajectory. I would appreciate your advice on [the goal you set earlier.] I’d love to hear about how you [pivoted from your first career to this one, landed the job at your current company, etc…].
Are you available for a 20-minute phone call next week? I am available and would love to connect at the time that is most convenient for you.
I am really looking forward to connecting!
Landing an Informational Interview
Informational interviews are important steps in deciding if a new position or career path is right for you. Ideally, you can connect with someone in a role like this through contacts you already have, though persistence with contacts you don’t know can also help you land the interview.
After you finish the interview, be sure to maintain the relationship. Start by emailing your contact within 24 hours of the interview, and then again with updates about how you used their advice and continued on your job search.
Most important, though, is keeping an eye out for ways that you can help them. You don’t want it to feel like they’re doing all the work for you – and you’re giving nothing back.
“If you want to establish a long-term relationship, it needs to be a two-way street. As you nurture the working relationship with your contacts, always focus on what’s in it for them. If they value your follow-up contacts, they’ll be more inclined to help you throughout your career,” said informational interview expert Barbara Bruno.
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