I’m shocked and amazed by how few people do informational interviews. Hell, a lot of people don’t even know what they are. An informational huh? What is that?
Well pull up a chair, sonny. You’re about to get schooled. Here’s what you need to know about informational interviews and how to score one for yourself.
What is an informational interview?
An informational interview is a chance to learn about a specific job, industry, or organization. You’re not pimping your resume or asking for a job or a connection (if you do this you’re doing it wrong). Basically, you’re sitting down over coffee and having an informal chat with someone about their work or industry.
The point is to gather information (hence the name) so you can make well-informed career decisions. It’s a great way to learn about breaking into a particular industry, growing in your current one, or just looking at your options.
Why you want one
Informational interviews are especially important if you’re not quite sure what kind of work you want to pursue. It’s your chance to feel things out before you decide to go back to school, quit your job, or pursue a particular career path.
If you’re using an informational interview to suss out your options, one of two things might happen: 1) You get confirmation that the path you’re going down seems to be a good fit. You like what you hear about this industry or company and your skills and interests match up; 2) You dodge a bullet. The industry or company you’re learning about is nothing like you thought it was. It’s not actually what you want and you’re glad you found that out now. Both of these outcomes are great, by the way. More information means better decisions.
What do I say to get an informational interview?
Thank goodness for the power and anonymity of the interwebs! Creep people on LinkedIn, check your Twitter feed, look up the staff directories of the cool companies you want to learn about. This is how you find your people. It’s even better if you have a friend who can introduce you to someone you want to speak with. If so, the likelihood of the person actually saying yes goes up exponentially.
Once you know who you want to talk to, keep your request short and sweet. In your email you want to:
- Say who you are in a sentence or two. Resist the urge to tell them your life story because a) it’s a waste of their time and, b) they don’t care.
- Tell them that you want to learn more about their field of work and hear about their experience, and that you’re NOT asking for a job or a connection (major ick factor).
- Ask if they would be willing to speak with you.
- Say you’ll come to them and work around their schedule. They’re doing you a favor by agreeing to talk to you, so make it easy for them to say yes.
No really, what do I say? Like, exactly.
Your email might look something like this:
I’m a sales and marketing manager and I’ve been working in this field for 10 years. I’m hoping to eventually develop my career in a different area, specifically brand development. I’m not looking for a job or connection, but I’m interested in learning more about your field of work, and specifically your own experience with branding in the beauty industry. Would you be willing to connect? Coffee is on me, and of course I’m happy to work around your schedule at whatever location is best for you. What do you think?
Thanks in advance,
Your introduction and details will vary based on who you are and what you want. If you’re a new grad those first few sentences might look something like this: I’m a new grad from the Business Management program at Ryerson University. I’d like to pursue work in the area of corporate communications.
The rejection factor
Not everyone you ask for an informational interview will say yes. That’s understandable. People are busy.
Some people won’t even respond to your email. If you get crickets, give it a week or two and then send a polite follow-up. Maybe their silence means no, but maybe they just forgot about you in the inbox shuffle.
The point is, you’re going to get rejected. I think that’s why so many people avoid reaching out for informational interviews in the first place – it’s a vulnerable thing to do. Do it anyway. And cast your net wider than you think you have to. The more information you gather the better decisions you’ll make.
Published at Entrepreneur.