I check my watch for the 16th time this hour, second-guess my outfit choice for about the 500th time today (Too formal? Too casual? Ahh, I can’t decide!), head to the bathroom to make sure there’s nothing on my face or in my teeth, and stride out the door, trying to pretend I’m cool and collected, even though on the inside my heart is racing. Luckily, I remember to pause and take a deep breath, reminding myself that this is NOT a job interview.
So where am I going and why am I having this mini freak-out session?
I’m on my way to an informational interview.
If you’ve never been on one, the basic idea is that you meet someone to talk about their job, industry, or career path – and in some cases, all three topics. Think of it as a chance to meet people who are a little further along in their careers and find out how they got there.
Here are some simple tips to help you get started with informational interviews.
1. Finding people to approach
You might find this surprising, but your friends and family are actually really good resources. (You knew Facebook was good for something other than stalking your ex!) You can post something like “I’m really interested in working as a social media manager/graphic designer/fire dancer. Do you happen to know anyone who does this for a living? If so, please put me in touch.” You might be surprised by the results!
You can also get in touch with the alumni office at your alma mater. Depending on the school and the size of the office, they might have updated records of alums and where they’re currently working. If they’re not quite that organized, they can at least let you know about upcoming networking events in your area and you can use these events to try to find people to interview. This really works (I’ve done it myself!). You just have to follow up with people to make it happen (more on that in a minute).
2. Making the ask
Once you’ve found someone, you want to make it as easy as possible for them to say yes. This means you should offer to meet them at a time and location that is convenient for them. Be honest about the amount of time you’d like to meet with them. And remember to focus on the fact that you want to learn about them and their career. Most people love to talk about themselves, so this is generally a good tactic.
Your intro email might look something like this: “Hi Derek, I received your contact information from Hansel, a fellow alum from Handsome Boy Modeling School. Hansel mentioned that you’ve been working as a male model for a while now, and I’d love to hear more about how you got started and what projects you’re working on at the moment. I’d love to set up a 30-minute meeting. I could come to your office or we could meet somewhere for coffee—whatever is easiest for you. Thank you for your time!”
3. The details of the interview
True story: my friend agreed to do an informational interview with a recent grad from our alma mater. The person showed up and had no questions or talking points prepared. This is not the way you want to approach an informational interview.
Do a little research beforehand. Check out the person’s LinkedIn profile, personal website, and whatever else you can find. Write out your questions or the topics you’d like to cover. If the conversation flows naturally, you don’t have to stick to them, but they can provide a useful framework so you don’t get too far off topic.
Start by giving a (very) short summary about who you are and why you’re conducting the interview.
Make it clear why you’ve chosen this particular person. Are you hoping to learn about their specific position, their industry in general, or the company they work for? It’s okay to be curious about everything, but letting your interviewee know this upfront can also help them tailor their answers to you.
Before you end, don’t forget to ask if your interviewee can introduce you to anyone else. This shows that you found the conversation helpful and that you value their opinion—a win-win!
Be sure to present yourself professionally. You probably don’t need to wear a full suit, but something a step above “business casual” is usually a good rule of thumb. Pinterest is a great place to get ideas!
If you’re meeting for coffee, there’s that potentially awkward moment of negotiating who should pay. It’s always a good idea for you to offer to pay (think of it as a small gesture to thank the person for their time). If your interviewee wants to pay for him/herself (and maybe for you, too), that’s totally fine. Just smile and say thank you.
4. Following up
It’s a fact of modern-day life that people are busy, forgetful, and sometimes just flaky. You have to be prepared for this and adjust your game plan accordingly.
When trying to plan your meeting, you might have to reach out more than once in order to get a firm date and time. Just be sure that you’re always calm and courteous in every exchange.
And once you’ve actually had the interview, be sure to send a thank you. It can just be a simple email that lets the person know how much you appreciate their time and insight. Or, if you’re feeling fancy you can send a short handwritten note. One of my favorite anecdotes is about someone sending a $5 Starbucks card along with a note that said “Your next cup of coffee is on me.”
Now you’ve got all the info you need to be a polite, professional, well-prepared informational interviewer. Go out there and get to it!
About the Author
Melissa Feineman Suzuno is the content marketing manager at AfterCollege, a job search resource and discovery tool for college students and recent grads. Follow AfterCollege on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest for job search advice, information on different careers, and plenty more Zoolander jokes!