A great way to gather “insider” information about an industry, role, or company is by conducting informational interviews. For example, in a career exploration scenario, a job seeker may use informational interviews to learn about what it is like to be a “X” professional or work at “Y” company. The informational interview is a tool used by many seasoned professionals to gather information while navigating their careers, searching for jobs, or building their networks. It is an informal meeting where the interviewer seeks out knowledge and advice from the interviewee. Usually, the interviewer and the interviewee do not know each other.
Does the idea of asking a stranger for career advice sound daunting to you? Don’t worry, many job seekers are in your shoes, but, you really have nothing to fear! It is actually quite flattering to be the interviewee of an informational interview! Reaching out and setting up informational interviews is stress free as long as you do the necessary prep work before making the ask. Use these 3 easy steps to help you become a master informational interviewer.
1. Identify Your Goal. Know What You Want to Learn.
Seasoned professionals use informational interviews to figure out their next career moves or to search for jobs. Expansion of professional networks come naturally when the interviewer and interviewee both mutually want to continue the relationship after an interview session. The key to conducting a successful and engaging interview session is to have a clearly defined goal – what is it that you want to learn? What you want to learn should not be something that is easily found on the internet.
For example, if you are exploring different career options, don’t just set your goal to be “I want to learn about what is it like to be ’X’’?”. Be more specific and set your goal to be “I want to learn about what is it like to be an ‘X’ in a ‘Y’ sized company” or “I want to learn about what is it like to be an ‘X’ in the ‘Z’ industry”. Having specific and well defined goals will allow you to better select professionals that can really help you. It also helps you ask insightful questions that are better at driving engaging conversations.
2. Select and Prioritize Interview Candidates
The next step is to select and prioritize your interview candidates based on your goal(s). Generally, getting a warm introduction does make it easier to set up an informational interview, but it definitely is not a hard requirement. Start identifying candidates by asking people in your network if they know anyone who can help you learn more about [insert your identified goal(s) here]. Ask your family, friends, acquaintances or any associations that you are a part of such as your alumni association, professional groups, cultural groups etc.
Don’t worry if you are not able to find anyone within the reach of your network. If this is the case, then search online for professionals who look like they may be able to help – LinkedIn is a great way to do this. It is best if you are able to meet them in person so try to find professionals in your area. If you find someone with very specific niche knowledge, and they are not located in your area, then try to connect with them over the phone.
Once you have your candidates identified, use LinkedIn again to check if anyone in your network can give you a warm introductions. If not, see if there is a way to contact them directly via an email, LinkedIn Inmail, Twitter, or by phone. Lastly, confirm that you have a way of contacting your interview candidates, either through reaching out directly or a warm introduction, and then prioritize them based on who you think will be provide you with the most valuable learnings.
3. Make Your “Ask”
Start setting up informational interviews with those who are on the top of your priority list. Whether you are meeting them through a warm introduction or reaching out directly, you should always provide a small paragraph about yourself and your ask for an informational interview. Keep it clear and concise.
Your ask should contain a brief summary about who you are, how you found them (if you are contacting them directly), what you’re looking to learn, and why they may be helpful to you (flattery!). It should also contain an ask for a 20-30 minute meeting over coffee or a phone call. Outline that the purpose of the meeting is to learn from them about [insert your clearly defined goal(s) here]. Lastly, close with thanking them for their time and consideration.
Informational interviews are useful for gaining “insider” knowledge about industries, roles, or companies and also help with building your professional network. Follow these steps and you will set up informational interviews stress free! People generally want to be helpful so don’t be discouraged if the first few people you ask say no. Never take those rejections personally. The reason they had to pass on the meeting likely had nothing to do with you.
Stay tuned for a post on how to execute successful informational interviews. In the meantime, check out these articles on how to conduct effective informational interviews and non-awkward informational interviews. If you have any questions about how to set up informational interviews, please comment below, or reach out directly!