How I landed a job through an informational interview

It happens to many of us at some point: We reach a dead end in our job search or have hit a wall in our career growth. No amount of job post reading or online researching can answer our tough questions so we actually need to sit down and ask someone for advice.

Career advice articles will call this “informational interviewing,” but I’d rather call it “relationship building.” Relationship building implies making authentic connections with people who could become friends, mentors, or maybe future colleagues. And real conversations are where the magic is.

The power of informational interviews

In my recent search, I knew what I wanted (a career in sustainable fashion) and knew a bit about the field, but I was still an outsider to the industry. And as an outsider, I had a lot of questions about how I would fit in: What job titles should I search for? Where my skills would apply best? How do certain individuals ended up with these coveted CSR jobs in the first place?!

But it wasn’t until after my search that a friend told me I had done something unique. Over the course of my search, I became really good at sending cold emails, getting a 100% response rate, and truly enjoying the conversations I was having. I didn’t mean to engage in “informational interviewing,” I just love meeting people and had questions that I couldn’t get answered any other way. I was living in a city where I wasn’t meeting people interested in what I wanted to do, so I had to search for them.

How you can get started

Somehow at the end, I had a job without asking for one; I just wanted answers to my questions. So before we started, get rid of your expectations of talking to someone and magically getting a job. Done? Ok, now let’s focus on having a great engaging conversation with someone you admire.

Identify what you want to learn

Whether you are focused on one field or you are feeling quite lost, reflect on where it is that you are stuck. What are your questions that you wish you could have answered? It could be as broad as, “Would my job experience by helpful at a nonprofit?” Or it could be as specific as, “Do I have to have a graduate degree in sustainability in order to work in CSR department?”

Take time to make your questions thoughtful: the more thoughtful the questions, the more likely you’ll get a response.

Identify who might be able to help you

Now that you know what you want answered, you need to find someone to talk to. If your questions are really broad (“What do I do with my life?”), consider a career coach. But if your questions are more specific to your goals or interests, finding someone who shares that experience will be really helpful.

I started by reaching into my own address book. Did I know anyone who could answer my questions? Did I know anyone who could introduce me to someone who could answer my questions, even if it was a distant contact?

Start with your personal networks: friends and family, your high school and university alumni associations, and any clubs or organizations you might belong to. Truly use all of the networks you’re already a part of: a response is much more likely when you have a shared connection. Send an email to friends, peruse your alumni network directory online or send an email to an alumni coordinator, and ask specifically if they know anyone who might be able to answer your questions (perhaps you even list a few of those you’ve written down).

No luck? Then try the cold outreach. Think about whom you admire. Can you find a way to get in touch with them? Did you read an article that mentioned someone who inspired you? Did you find someone on LinkedIn with your dream job and you want to know how she got there? Put on your detective cap, and see if you can track down an email address.

Reach out

Now that you have the name and contact information of someone you’d like to connect with, it’s time to start the conversation. Rule #1: Always email; no phone calls. You get more opportunity to spell out why you’d like to connect, and your potential connection is given time to respond on their own schedule without interruption.

A great introductory email should include:

  • How you learned of this person (i.e. “my friend Jane” or “through an Idealist article”)
  • Mention any shared connections or interests
  • A brief summary of what you are doing now, what you hope to do, and where you are stuck/what you want to do
  • Why you think this person could be helpful (“I find your experience inspiring” or “It’s great to see a fellow alum with similar interests to myself”)
  • A very simple request to connect. Here’s what I found helpful: “If you would be willing to have a conversation by email or a phone (or Skype), I would be incredibly grateful.”

What an introductory email should NEVER include:

  • A request for a job
  • A suggestion of meeting over a full meal (too long!) or alcohol (too unprofessional!)
  • Your whole life story. Give them enough information to understand your present situation, but not the whole thing.

Can you follow up?

Yes. Once. Give them at least a full week before you email again. Can you include your resume or a link to your LinkedIn profile? Yes. You might want to say something like “I’m attaching my resume for your reference if you’d like to see more about my experience.”


If you’ve received a response and set up a time, congratulations! You’re already prepared: You have a list of specific questions and a time to talk to someone who potentially has a ton of experience you can learn from.

Before your “interview” time, take 20 minutes to review your questions, read the bio of the person you’re speaking to and the history of their organization, and then just be yourself.

Use this time to learn by asking thoughtful questions and listening to their answers. One of the best questions to open up the conversation is to ask: “How did you get to where you are?” which allows them to tell you a bit about their journey. And, as I mentioned earlier, ask for advice, not a job.

Say “Thank you”

Send an email or a hand written card to follow up, regardless of how the conversation went. Be grateful and be specific about what you enjoyed about the conversation – this will show your appreciation as well as help make your connection memorable. Share any thing you promised to follow up on, and feel free to include a reminder if they promised to help you out (“Thank you for offering to introduce me to your colleague. I look forward to meeting him!”).

Depending on how your conversation went, keep in touch! You might feel comfortable sending updates, perhaps if you see a job posting or your situation changes.

At the end of the day, if it was an engaging conversation, this is the beginning of a relationship, not a one-off “interview.” Relationships require nurturing and sharing, so don’t forget to give too.



Rebecca Magee works as the Social Consciousness Coordinator at EILEEN FISHER, Inc. When she’s not thinking about sustainable fashion at work, she’s writing about it in her free time on her blog, THIS I WEAR. She owes a huge “thank you” for connecting her to two full-time positions that led her to where she is now.


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    • Carissa Smith
    • September 26, 2013

    Great article! I love the emphasize on building relationships rather than the result of simply using someone for a job. I am in the job search now and feel like I’m hitting a dead end being that I’m in a new city with a very small & limited network so I’ve started cold-emailing people too. My 1st one got a response! I did this before I read this article & I was surprised to see that I did a lot of what you suggested when reaching out. But this article has given me even more insight into how to approach informational interviews.
    Thank you!

    1. Carissa, good luck in your job search and congrats on getting a response! It sounds like you’re on the right track already.

      Best wishes,

        • Carissa Smith
        • October 1, 2013

        Thanks Rebecca!
        After a week of sending more emails I have a couple of questions. I’m in a new city where I don’t know anyone so I have to go out cold to start a network. The way that I’m finding these organizations/people by simple searches so I have no other connections. I read in the other comments your suggestion on what to include in the subject line if you don’t know the person but what should I put in this case where I have no connection, just my interest in the org/person, as a baseline?

        Also, I’ve gotten an initial response from an org saying that another staff member will be in touch to setup the interview. It’s been a week now and I haven’t heard back. Is it appropriate for me to followup with an email for that specific person? or would it be too pushy?

        Thanks for any advice/suggestions you can give!


        1. Hi Carissa,
          I’ll answer your questions in reverse:
          – Yes, if it’s been more than a week, feel free to send another email
          – Subject lines (and first sentences) can be hard. Step 1: Do your best to just demonstrate that you’re human and not spam 🙂 and Step 2: throw in the keywords. Ex “Informational Interview inquiry about your nonprofit experience”

          Keep in mind that in general, people really enjoy sharing their personal stories – or at least that’s been my experience. So even though you might not have a shared connection, if you’re willing to be patient and flexible, they will probably respond to a thoughtfully written email asking about their personal career experience.

          Good luck!

    • Sara Jadambaa
    • September 26, 2013

    Dear Rebecca,

    Thank you for sharing your story and tips. It is very helpful and encouraging. Thank you again.
    Best regards,

    • Mary Valls
    • September 26, 2013

    Rebecca, very good article. Great advice and thoughtfully written. Extremely useful information especially for a career changers / transitioners. Thank you for sharing!

    • Virginie
    • September 26, 2013

    Great information and very to the point!
    But what I am most thankful for is you helped me identify what I was good at. just like you I never identified it as one of my main strengths, but I love meeting new people and having these conversations!
    Now I have to check your blog!

    • jen freeman
    • September 26, 2013

    Hi Rebecca,
    Thanks for the informative article. My main question for you is–what subject line do you use in your initial email request? 🙂 That seems like the trickiest bit, would love your take.

    Thank you!

    1. Jen, awesome question! This is hard, especially when forced to be concise! I try to be as specific as possible. For example, when I sent an email to someone who was a fellow alum of my university, I mentioned the name of the university in the subject line (“Inquiry from a fellow ____ grad”). If you’re connected to someone you don’t know but you have a shared connection (whether a friend, institution, or club), mention that keyword in the subject line for sure!

      If you don’t have a direct connection, perhaps use how you learned of them in your subject line (“Thanks for the great Idealist article” or “Congrats on your recent NYTimes mention”).

      One good keyword that gives context to your email should get your email opened. If you don’t get a response, try a different subject line when you follow up.

    • Amanda
    • September 28, 2013

    I also am in the job search and I find this extremely helpful! It’s been a year since I graduated from college with some internship experience not related to what I want to do… I feel like I’m doing everything right, working part-time at least, volunteering weekly, building up my skills, tailoring resumes and cover letters, but I haven’t gotten ANY leads yet. I keep hearing that I should do informational interviews but I never really understood how I’d go about it without already having connections. But there you go!

    • Diane
    • November 9, 2013

    This article was so helpful. I have done a lot of reading on information interview. This is by far my favorite article on the subject.

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    • John
    • January 29, 2014

    I am all for informational interviewing. One of the challenges and dilemmas I have encountered which gets to me is how I have gone out of my way to conduct an informational interview with 3 different professionals before. They conducted the info interviews nicely and we stayed in touch afterwards with good mutual conversation, Unfortunately, one lady stopped responding to my emails in 2011 just like that when she would always reply before and even after I calling and emailing wondering what she is up to I would never hear back. This other lady doesn’t respond to me anymore even as we’re connected on FB and has shared few resources with support to me before. And the same goes with the 3rd lady who did an info interview with me in 2010. I have usually gone out of my way to send the ladies relevant articles and offered to help, but not been responded back to. I wonder why it has to be like this when everything went well from the start and we would all have it good, but suddenly the other party for no reason doesn’t follow up? Plus, some other connections I have made have been good about keeping up, but the 3 seasoned professionals who I did an info interview with sadly don’t respond back as it would be imagined they would. This is frustrating and affects trust in spending energy with others. I wish there would be negative outcomes unexpectedly from positive intent created at the beginning. Any feedback would be appreciated. Thanks!

    • Jessica
    • January 29, 2014

    Hi Rebecca,
    Thank you for posting this article. I found it very helpful. I’m recently trying to re-enter the workforce after staying home with my child (although I managed a property) and I’ve definitely been taking the information interview approach. Your article had a lot of great tips and I will keep these in mind when I get to my next informational interview. Thanks Again! Jessica

    • Gabriel
    • February 11, 2014

    Thank you Rebecca, very nice of you to post this article…

      • Jessica
      • February 22, 2014


      What if your contact (cold call), doesn’t respond. Do you try to connect a second time? If there’s no response then, what would you do?

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    • Andrea
    • September 9, 2014

    What tips can you give for those of us who are perhaps quite anxious about connecting with people they don’t know? Like others, I’m new in the city/industry and don’t know anyone. I’ve had some success in posting in Linkedin Groups about how to get information about the industry I’m looking into/have had some great tips, but the issue I’m finding is they are all “go on informational interviews” “get in contact with X organisation” without any sort of tips on how to actually go about that.

    As someone whose spent the three and half years in Academia which is very isolating, I’m lacking those core social skills and increasingly anxious about the prospect of cold calling.

    Do you have any links or resources that outline in perhaps detail (or even in a formulaic pattern) on how to go about informational interviewing?

      • Brenda
      • October 15, 2014

      Hi Andrea, I would like to give you some encouragement here first. Of cause your question might need to be answered by people who are more experienced and sophisticated. I am centainly not in such a position to give you any “cut to the chase” guidance. As a english as second language speaker, trust me, I am more nervous to do such thing than you! If I can do it, you definitely can do much better than me! Good luck to all of us!

  9. Hello There. I fouind your blolg using msn. This is an extremely well written article.
    I’ll make sure to bookmark it and return to read more of your useful info.
    Thanks for the post. I will definitely comeback.

    • Brenda
    • October 15, 2014

    Hi Rebecca, I am in the exactly same situation of your back then right now! Your article is really inspiring. I totally can apply some of your tips in my practice. Thank you!

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    • kim
    • February 2, 2015

    Thanks for the advice and inspiration!

    • Nina
    • March 11, 2015

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I needed the confidence booster and to think that I was at that point where I actually said, “I just need to make money…” which is true but again, it didn’t mean that I had to give up on my career aspiration or the pursuit of the infinite satisfaction that lies beneath finding my true calling, my dream career. Thank you so much!

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