Informational interviews are brief conversations (typically an hour or less) with someone who has already had success in a career path you’re considering. You can think of informational interviews as little glimpses into your possible future, with the added benefit of growing your professional network and getting some firsthand advice.
While it might sound intimidating to request a meeting with someone you admire, it’s important to remember that people are generally flattered when you approach them for an interview. And who wouldn’t love to be reminded that they chose an interesting career path?
Informational interviews are a valuable part of any networking plan. Here’s the lowdown on how to go about setting them up and making sure they go off without a hitch:
1. Figure out who you want to reach out to
You might seek out someone whose career path you want to emulate, or someone who is currently working for an organization you admire, or whose educational background is similar to your own, or who has particular knowledge of the field you want to enter.
Your best bet will be an introduction by someone already in your network, though “cold” emails can work as well. Start by asking people in your current network for leads, and then supplement that list with people you’ve found through your own independent research. LinkedIn allows you to search for a specific company, keyword or industry, and then shows you people with which you share a first, second, or third degree connection. Use this social map to request introductions to interesting people.
2. Make contact
Once you’ve determined who you’d like to reach out to, either ask your mutual contact to put you in touch, or send a short, thoughtful email yourself.
Be sure your email includes:
- How you were introduced to this person’s work (e.g. “I heard you speak at the networking event last Tuesday evening…”)
- A brief summary of where you are in your career (e.g. “I just completed my Master’s degree in Environmental Psychology, and am interested in putting it to use in the nonprofit sector.”)
- An explanation of why you are reaching out to them (e.g. “I was impressed with the consumer recycling program you described, and am curious to learn more.”)
- A specific request for an interview (e.g. “I’m sure you’re very busy, but I was wondering if you might have time for a short conversation over coffee; I’d love to hear more about the program, as well as how you got involved with your organization.”)
If the person doesn’t write back or turns you down, don’t sweat it. People are busy, so there’s no need to take it personally. If the person agrees to an interview, move on to step 3!
3. Prepare for the interview
In order to make the most out of your brief interview, you’ll want to prepare in advance. This includes conducting a bit of research on the person you’re meeting with, and preparing a list of questions.
We recommend drafting a set of questions that cover the person’s career path, their current work, advice they have for you, and next steps. Here are some example questions in each category.
- How did you get started on this career path?
- Why did you choose this type of work—what drew you to it?
- What’s your educational background?
- What do you do in a typical day?
- What are the most and least rewarding aspects of this type of work?
- Which skills and abilities are most valued in your field? Which ones are currently in demand?
- What is the turnover/burnout rate? Why is it that way?
- If I were to look for a job in this field, what are the best known organizations I should be aware of?
- How would you recommend I start the job search?
- What do you wish you had known about this field when you were starting your career? What would you do differently?
- What degrees would you recommend someone in this field getting?
- Are there any books or professional publications that I can read to learn more about this work?
- Who else would you recommend I chat with for more information? May I use your name when I contact them?
- What haven’t I asked you that I should have?
- May I contact you if necessary, in the future?
4. Meet with your contact. Ask questions and bask in all of the good advice. And don’t forget to send a thank you email!