How do you request an informational interview? What are the things you need to remember?
We asked experts to provide some helpful tips on how to find the right approach.
James Westhoff, M.Ed., CCC
Certified Career Counselor | Director of Career Services, Husson University
I work with my students to help them connect to professionals in the fields in which they are interested. It is important to be well-prepared for informational interviews.
Do your research in the field you want to dive in
I encourage my students to research the field so they understand what types of job titles and opportunities are available. That helps us to figure out who to connect with. The more you know about a field will help you ask educated questions.
Present yourself as prepared, professional, well-spoken, and enthusiastic
This way, contacts will be excited to help you gain more connections in your chosen field of interest. It is extremely important to truly make these informational meetings rather than asking for a job. It is about relationship building over the long-term rather than just a one-time meeting.
Starting with contacts that are at the level you want to be or one step above that entry-level
That said, there is nothing wrong with pursuing higher-level connections if they are willing to be a resource. I often recommend trying to find a connection that you can use for a referral to the person you wish to be interviewed by.
Here is an example: I had a student deeply interested in the field of public health. I happen to have a connection to that field through a relative and was aware of a person that was doing exactly what my student was interested in.
I encouraged the student to reach out. Her e-mail to this connection went something like this:
My name is _______ and I am deeply interested in the field of public health and nutrition.
My director of Career Services, James Westhoff recommended I reach out to you for an informational interview.
To be more concise I am interested in merging public health, nutrition, and mental health counseling into the work that I do.
I was wondering if you would be willing to meet with me very briefly to talk about what you do and how it might relate to these interests.
After the connection responded positively, the student and I worked together to develop questions for their meeting.
The student reported back that the meeting went very well and she learned that she would be able to combine these interests and the contact gave her 3 or 4 names of other people that would be good contacts.
The student dressed professionally knew what she wanted to ask, and was not afraid to ask for more connections. Finally, she sent a very nice handwritten thank you note to the contact and she will follow-up as she makes the other connections.
Vice President, Messina Staffing
Contact someone you know or people whom you have common connections with
In terms of the who, the best way to get a response is to contact someone you know or someone who knows an acquaintance of yours. Name dropping really helps you here, as long as there is a good association with that name.
As for the how-to ask, here is what I appreciate in requests:
Start with an offer for a phone call instead of a meeting
Time is so precious, so a quick 20-minute meeting can turn into clear to an hour when you consider travel time and spillover. Phone calls are very easy to organize and can quickly wrap up.
Provide a memory reference
Always include time if you’ve met the recipient or seen them at a presentation. This adds a bit of a personal touch and also might jog the recipient’s memory.
Send a concrete request
I tend to ignore emails from people who just want to chat vaguely. Identify something specific you’d like to discuss so that both parties can be prepared.
Make sure to include an informational email signature
Include your LinkedIn profile or a personal website in your signature; that saves the recipient quite a bit of time Googling.
Here’s an example of an email that I received:
My name is Susan Key and I am a Business major at the University of Chicago. I was in the audience when you spoke at the panel at our school called Finding your true career path.
Your story about working your way up the corporate ladder, and battling sexism along the way, was a true inspiration.
I’m currently exploring a start into the HR career path but need some guidance about how to get started. Specifically, I’d like to get your thoughts on what might be a way to pursue an internship.
Would it be possible to have a phone call for about 20 minutes so that I can share my thoughts and get your input?
I would greatly appreciate hearing advice from a successful person such as yourself.
Director of Sales, Frank Recruitment Group
Optimizing Informational interviews is a great networking technique that can be used throughout anyone’s career.
Try to think of it as less of a job interview and more of a conversational meeting to expand your network and gain information about the company or a role you’re interested in.
Make sure that you’re contacting the right person
When approaching a company, be assertive and efficient in your search. Use platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter to find the appropriate employees to connect, engage, and arrange a meeting with within the company.
If you’re looking to move to a new department, inform your current manager that you aim to progress within the company. You could also consider contacting your HR department to arrange a meeting with your desired department manager.
Your initial message should clearly outline your intentions
An effective way to gain a quick response is to follow this approach:
- Start by asking for their help; nothing is more of a compliment than feeling needed.
- Make your request very specific and convenient for them to say yes to your request.
- Avoid being too keen on a job and focus on gaining more information about the company or learning about your contact’s role.
- Be considerate of their schedule and highlight that you will not take up too much of their time.
- Finally, be graciously persistent. If you have not received a reply within a week, send them a gentle reminder email to see if they had a chance to read your previous email.
Related: How to End a Professional Email
Partner/Co-Founder, Health Search Partners
Who to ask
Any leaders in your industry who are local. Focus on people who are 2-3 steps above you in the title.
For example, if you are a Manager focus on VP’s and above. If you are staff Directors and VP’s. Start with people you have connections with:
- Former colleagues or bosses.
- People who worked in the same companies like you.
- People from the same College/University.
- People from the same hometown
- Friends of friends
- People who go to the same church.
- Any other connection you can think of.
- Recruiters who specialize in your industry or specialty.
How to ask
Start off with an introductory email
This email should explain that you’d like to meet with them for at most 25 minutes to discuss your industry and career opportunities in that industry.
Stress out that you’d just like to get their ideas and input and that you are not looking for a position within their company. In the last sentence ask for a meeting. If they reply, set the meeting.
Make a follow-up
If you don’t get a response, then call and leave a message. If they have an assistant, try and schedule a meeting through the assistant. If that doesn’t work, leave a message. If still no response, try one follow up email or handwritten note and another follow-up call. If still no response move on.
Network and connections
You can also ask your friends to reach out to prospects asking if they will talk to you. For your top 5 people who don’t respond, you can stop by their office with a handwritten note and business card. Follow up with a phone call.
My brother was out of a job and had been looking awhile. I reached out to two friends at a former company and asked if they would meet with him to talk about their industry as he was interested in that specific industry. He met with both on the same day.
One of them referred him to his boss and he met with him the same day. By the end of business that day he was offered and accepted a six-figure position.
I had been studying at a community college for two years as a philosophy major. I loved the subject and my dream was to spend years studying philosophy in grad school, a Ph.D. program, and ultimately become a philosophy professor.
I completed my freshman and sophomore years at community college and had received a full academic scholarship to transfer to UC Berkeley. I was going to study what I loved for free at one of the top schools in the state! I was elated!
However, as my transfer date got closer, it occurred to me that while I loved the subject of philosophy, I didn’t really understand what it meant to be an academic. Before I spent the next 7+ years trying to get into the field, I decided to investigate what the life of an academic was like.
I emailed several professors of philosophy at different California universities with the following:
Hi Professor [Name],
My name is Julia Kelly and I’m a student at MC College. My current career goal is to become a professor of philosophy (I’m transferring to UC Berkeley in the fall).
However, before I go through all the years/struggle/opportunity cost that I’d need to get through to get a Ph.D., I’d like to sit down people who have actually (successfully) done it to find out what their experience was in grad school and what life is like as an academic.
I’m sure you’re very busy gearing up for the next quarter but I wonder if I could take you out to coffee (or call you if that’s easier) and pick your brain for a half an hour.
I’d come prepared with very focused questions and I’m sure I could learn a whole lot from you.
No pressure if you can’t do it, I know you’re busy.
Thanks for considering.
I got four informational interviews from this email with professors in different stages of their academic careers.
The overwhelming takeaway from all four interviews was that simply loving a subject is not a good enough reason to become an academic.
If I wasn’t excited about the prospect of teaching (I wasn’t) and if I simply wanted to spend my time learning and reading philosophy, I’d be better off pursuing a different career and keeping philosophy as a hobby.
They also pointed out that I’d have to be comfortable with career uncertainty; specifically, a huge pool of competition for a tiny handful of jobs. That cinched it for me; I decided I didn’t want to spend the next seven-plus years committing to a career with those kinds of odds of success.
While it was difficult to turn down a full scholarship at Berkeley, ultimately it was the best decision I made to switch majors and career paths. I picked accounting because I liked numbers. I ended up spending at extra year at community college to get my accounting pre-requisites completed.
I transferred to San Diego State where I completed my degree in accounting, was recruited by several of the top four accounting firms, and ultimately decided to co-found my own accounting firm.
I love the flexibility of self-employment and its abundantly clear to me that the constraints of the life of an academic would not have suited me at all.
I still love reading philosophy, it will always my passion, but I’m so grateful those four professors agreed to let me interview them. Without their input, I would have picked a career path for the wrong reasons.
Marketing Consultant & Founder, RocLogic Marketing, LLC
There are so many people that can be useful to ask for an informational interview: friends, co-workers, friends of friends
The real key is getting beyond those people and over to 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th-degree connections because those are the people most likely to know about the company or industry you’re interested in knowing more about.
Ultimately, there are two groups of people you want to have a conversation with:
- Those that would be at the same level of the organization you’d be working at (or similar organization); your future colleagues.
- Those that would be a future hiring manager.
So, how do you get in front of those people you’ve never even met?
Identify both what you want to know and why you want to know it
Being able to articulate the why behind the what is very important if you want the people you’re trying to engage to care. They need to see passion. If they don’t, you’ll be dead in the water in many of your interactions.
Once you’ve captured your thoughts in a succinct and coherent fashion, practice explaining what you’re after and why to someone that’s willing to give you brutally honest feedback.
Start your networking
There are networking events in your region. Maybe not in your suburb (if you live in one), but within your metro region. These people likely won’t be the people you ultimately need to get to, but they may know someone who knows someone, who knows someone, that you’ll eventually get to if you’re persistent.
It’s fine to start with people you know, recognizing that your ultimate goal is to branch out well beyond those you know. You want these people that you know to connect you with others.
When you finally get to the people you want the informational interview from, you’ve got a leg up to start with because you’ve got a connection to them from a previous connection.
Be straight with them. Let them know what you’re interested in, and why, and that you’d like to know if you can pick their brain a bit on the topic.
Don’t go for the “top dog”
Typically, the C-Suite professionals are far too busy to add yet another meeting to their day, let alone, read your email. Reach out to someone who is a supervisor of a team, one level below the person who you’d actually like to meet with. They will still have valuable information and likely will have more time to spend with you.
Ask for help
People love to feel as though they are helping others. Make use of this by asking for help in the first line of your email. Your email should be short and sweet. You want to get straight to the point.
I’d love your help to learn how I can advance my career. My name is Kevin and I currently work as a Marketing Specialist at XYT Marketing.
I saw your article on improving the Customer Experience and loved what you had to say. It would be great if I could take you out for a cup of coffee (or tea) for a quick chat about your perspective on the industry and how to upskill for where it’s heading.
I am available to meet wherever is convenient for you.
Certified Personal Trainer | CEO, Anabolic Bodies
Make this personal
Get ahold of someone who works in the department for a company that you want to work for, but doesn’t currently hold the job that you’re aiming for. You don’t want to make it seem like you’re trying to muscle them out of a job.
Tell them that you know they must be so busy, but you would really appreciate it if they could make a little time in their day for you. And be flexible. Whenever they can, you’re game. Make this as convenient for them as possible.
If you’re not sure how to ask them about getting a job without getting tossed over to HR, then get a little personal. Tell them you’re writing an article, blog post, or making a YouTube video – then be sure you follow through with this.
This is great, because it makes them feel special, gets you the information you need, and on top of it all, it gives you the chance to follow up once you post your blog/video/article.
Getting a foot in the door is the hardest part, but making a friend in the department can do that for you and get you a little up-talk with their boss.