An informational interview is just a conversation with someone who might be able to provide you with some helpful information about navigating your career. Sounds fancy, but it’s really just a chill chat over a cup of coffee.
It’s usually with someone who is doing interesting work you think you might want to do. The whole point is to learn more about that world of work — to determine whether it will indeed be a good fit for you, and if so, how you might navigate in that direction.
To be ready to ask someone for an informational interview you have to have a couple of ideas of things you think you might want to do. You don’t have to be 100% sure. It’s not your job to seem like you have your shit together or impress the person you’re speaking with. The point is to gather information. Hence the name. Once you have a few potential career paths in mind (vague ideas are fine), you have to figure out what information is missing. What do you need to know to determine if this career path is for you?
Given the information you want to gather, the next question is, who are some people who might be able to provide some of the information you need? You’ll want to start with people you know or people you can have someone introduce you to, but those connections will run out very quickly, so you’ll have to do your research (on LinkedIn, or company websites, or anywhere really) to find some cool people to approach on your own.
I should warn you that rejection is a regular part of informational interviews. People are busy. Only one out of every three or four people you approach will be down for getting together with you, and the rest of the time you’ll hear crickets (if so, send a follow-up request a week later), or people will say they’re too busy. It’s not personal, so don’t get all weird about it. Just send out your slew of requests and see what comes back.
Okay, so I know what questions I have, and an idea of who I’d talk to, but how do I get this person to have coffee with me?
You just ask.
Yup. You ask. The people you ask might be people you know or total strangers. Here’s what asking might look like:
Subject: Interested in your work
Hi Coolperson (use their name, obvs),
I’m currently working in __________ (say what kind of work you’re doing now), but I’m thinking about developing my career in the area of __________, specifically __________. I’m not looking for a job or connection, but I’m very interested in learning more about your field of work, and especially your own experience with __________ (say their industry or something they’re working on). Would you be willing to chat? Coffee is on me, and of course I’m happy to work around your schedule at whatever location is best for you. Let me know what you think.
BOOM. That’s what a winning informational interview request looks like.
I want you to notice three important things here:
- You’re not telling the person your life story. Why? They’re busy. Also, they don’t care because they don’t know you yet.
- You’re making it clear that you’re not asking for a job. You’re just looking for information about their work. (Which is way less icky than asking a total stranger for a job hookup. Ew.)
- You’re making it easy for them to say yes by keeping your email short and offering to work around their schedule and location.
Side note: If you don’t know exactly what kind of work you want to do, no probelmo. Just say that. Or if you’re not working, just say that. Or if you’re still a student, just say that. I hope you’re noticing that the point isn’t to impress someone; it’s to gather information.
Now you know what information you need, who to ask, and how to ask for it. You’re on your way! With all these coffee chats you’re about to be super caffeinated and also way more knowledgeable than before. WIN.
But what questions should I ask once I have these people in front of me?!
Good question! Here’s a post about how to prepare for your informational interview.