Part II: 4 Steps to Succeeding at Informational Interviews

Hopefully I’ve won you over in Part I about how informational interviews work wonders for you and your career. Now that you’re ready to jump into some interviewing, I know it can be overwhelming to read through all the tips and tricks of the trade. It’s important to realize that the “right” way is ultimately contingent upon your personality. At the same time, don’t feel like just because you’re an introvert, that you will have a more challenging time than extroverts — that’s certainly not the case! I’m a big proponent of not forcing yourself to do anything you truly don’t want to, but I am also a believer in pushing boundaries for personal growth. It’s simply a matter of allowing yourself to be open to the process.

With that said, here are my 4 tips for conducting your first informational interview.

Do your research. Be honest about who you want to interview and don’t pick individuals whose careers you aren’t sincerely curious about. It will be much harder to come up with interview questions without genuine interest (and it’ll be ridiculously awkward for the both of you!). I suggest researching as many people as you can (via LinkedIn, company websites, etc.) that you can actually meet in person. Search for types of industries, roles, and job descriptions and keep a list of the ones that catch your eye.

For extra points, try to find people through your own connections. They will be able to facilitate the introduction and mention some good things about you, too! But for now, just focus on learning as much as you can about these people: find out about their professional history, learn about their educational background, find the current office location, and read any published articles – you get the picture. This all prevents you from asking obvious questions during your interview, as well as gives you a better idea of whether or not they are the right fit for you.

Introduce Yourself. When introducing yourself via email, keep it short and to the point. This is probably the most uncomfortable part, but I promise it’s a breeze! Here’s a quick example:

“Dear ________, I’m a student at ______ University, majoring in ________. I’ve read some of your articles on __________ and I’m considering a career in ___________ as well. I’d really love to learn more about the work you do as an ______________, and was hoping I can take you for a quick coffee to learn more about it. I noticed that your company’s office is in ________, and I’ll actually be in the area next week. Please let me know when you’re available, I would sincerely appreciate it!”

You won’t always get a response, but you’d be surprised how many people will. After a couple of more email exchanges, send your résumé to give an idea of who you are (even if it’s already on LinkedIn). If you’re a student or a young professional that is just starting out, don’t feel self-conscious about not having a super stellar resume just yet. You’re reaching out to them for help, remember?

The Interview: Be interested, not interesting. Remember, you are interviewing them. Don’t worry about not having much to say – you’re not supposed to! Your job is to learn about their experience, skills, and challenges. Prepare at least 15-20 questions to direct the flow of your interview and be as professional as you would be for a job interview (dress appropriately and make eye contact!). If you promised a 30-minute interview, then deliver exactly that. Prior to the 30-minute mark, kindly mention that you are aware of their busy schedule, and that you’re happy to continue the conversation next time. If they’re still able to continue their time with you, great! If not, it’s a good way to smoothly end the interview. They’ll appreciate your mindfulness and this gives you an open door to reach out to them again.

Seal the deal. Conclude the interview by asking if they have any recommendations on other professionals who you can connect with. When you reach out to these new individuals, you will already have a mutual connection that will make networking easier. At the same time, you will be building a positive, professional reputation for yourself. Last but not least, send a thank you card (yes, an actual card with an envelope, and buy a stamp to mail it). There is no exception!

Follow-up with them from time to time to keep the connection going. Sometimes I like to send a short email update on how their advice influenced my decisions at work or school. Other times, it’s just a link to an article that they might enjoy. Either way, the objective is to remind them of how they helped you and that they are appreciated.

The more you conduct informational interviews, the more comfortable you will be speaking to successful (and perhaps intimidating) people. The amount of knowledge and insight that you gain out of them are immeasurable and can truly change the course of your future. Remember, there’s no such thing as failing or embarrassing yourself when you’re coming from a place of sincerity. Good luck!

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