Start Here: How to Reach Out for Informational Interviews
If large-scale networking events aren’t your forte and you prefer to develop professional relationships on a one-to-one basis, informational interviews are the most powerful tool in your networking toolkit.
Unlike traditional interviews, which employers conduct to find suitable candidates for a job, the purpose of an informational interview is strictly educational. These informal conversations typically take place between a person who wants to learn more about a career or a company and a person working in that career or for that company. Most informational interviews last no more than 30 minutes, and can be conducted in person, over the phone, or over video chat.
Want to expand your network with informational interviews? Here’s a quick guide to get you started.
1) Find someone to interview.
Your informational interview might be with someone you know--a former colleague who has switched jobs, a friend or family member, a professor--or with someone you’ve never met before. If you are looking to connect with someone outside of your existing network, a few good places to start include:
LinkedIn - You can use LinkedIn’s filtering feature to locate professionals in your city who work in industries or for companies you are interested in. Search by university to find alumni from your alma mater, or search by company to find professionals who have previously worked for the same employer. An added benefit of LinkedIn is that you can filter search results by a 2nd or 3rd degree connection to see if you have a mutual friend, and then ask that friend to introduce you.
Your alumni network - Many universities offer platforms or opportunities for alumni to connect. Alumni groups on Facebook and LinkedIn are ideal destinations for you to find individuals who share your educational background or can bond with you over college memories. Your university may also have a separate alumni database or established mentoring program for you to explore.
Friends and family - Never underestimate the power of your existing network. Spread the word about what you want to learn about, and the chances of finding people to talk to will increase exponentially. Maybe your brother’s best friend recently launched his own startup, or your roommate’s sister works for an ad agency you’re interested in. You’ll never know unless you ask.
2) Send an invite.
Once you have identified a few people with whom you would like to meet, reach out and ask for a few minutes of their time. Send an email or LinkedIn message with the following information:
Briefly introduce yourself and establish what you have in common (you went to the same university, you used to work at the same company, a mutual connection introduced you, etc.).
Express interest in their work. If relevant, compliment them on a recent blog post they published, an award they’ve earned, or another accolade that positions them as an expert.
Respectfully ask if they would be willing to speak with you about their job, industry, or professional journey. You can offer to call them at a mutually convenient time or meet at a public place like a coffee shop or a local park.
Be brief, professional, and friendly.
If they don’t respond, don’t worry! Feel free to follow up a week later, and keep working through your networking list.
3) Conduct a phone call or meeting.
After you’ve reached out to someone and confirmed a time and place for the informational interview, be prepared! Help your meeting go smoothly with these tips:
Do your research in advance! Review your new connection’s LinkedIn profile and personal website to get an idea of their experience, and have an understanding of the company or career you’re interested in.
Have a list of questions prepared in advance, but also let the conversation develop organically. Share information about yourself and your experience, too. It should feel like a conversation, not an interrogation.
If the conversation goes well, ask if they know of anyone else you should speak with to learn more about the career or company.
Be respectful about time. Try to limit the informational interview to 20 or 30 minutes at most.
Similar to a regular job interview, send a thank you note within 24 hours of your meeting. Reference something specific to your conversation to show how valuable it was to you. If you haven’t already, connect on LinkedIn.
4) Keep developing that relationship with your new connection.
Networking is about more than a single meeting or conversation. It’s an ongoing process that leads to stronger professional relationships, support systems, and opportunities. To keep in touch with your new connection and build upon that foundation you started, try some of these ideas:
If your conversation gave you insight that led to a career change or promotion, let them know! Knowing that they made a difference in your life is one of the most rewarding parts of informational interviews.
If you’ve found industry news or an event that would be relevant, send it along in an email or LinkedIn message.
Engage with their social media updates, especially major career milestones.
Be willing to help out your new connection if they are looking for career advice or know someone who is. Over time, you may develop a long-lasting mentorship.
One final note: if someone has contacted you asking for an informational interview, be open and willing to meet. No matter where you are in your career, you can always benefit from sharing your own experiences and learning about others’.
Looking for more professional development insights? Visit our career development page for a wealth of resources to help you advance your career.
Written by Janine Perri for Open Campus.