The informational interview is one of the most underrated tools in a jobseeker's belt. It can expand your network and open doors for you.
In this type of interview, you are the interviewer not the interviewee. At the other end of the table is a professional whose career level you aspire to obtain. You get to ask questions and pick the interviewee's brain.
Landing an informational interview requires some effort on your part. You have to identify someone you'd like to talk to and then ask for a phone or an in-person meeting.
Here are some tips on how to do it.
Asking for an Informational Interview: Best Practices
There are several ways to ask for an informational interview. Email works well. Compared to reaching out via social media or by phone, you are less likely to be viewed as spam or an annoying cold-caller.
When sending an interview request email, keep the following in mind:
- Respect the Other Person's Time
The person you're reaching out to is a busy professional. Otherwise, you wouldn't be trying to meet with them. Their time is valuable.
Your email needs to convey that you respect their time.
When asking for a meeting or phone conversation, propose a few specific times and keep the window relatively short (20 to 30 minutes is recommended).
For example, ask if they can meet Monday from 10:00 or 10:30 or if not, do they have any other 30-minute windows available?
- Be Specific
Don't simply ask them to chat with you about their job. Provide specifics of how they can help you. Most people have an innate desire to help others. For instance, describe your career goals and say you have a few ideas of how to get there and you'd love to hear about their own experiences as well as any advice they may have.
- Personalize Your Email
Personalization is more than getting the person's name, company, and job title correct. Do some research on them. What are their latest accomplishments? Have they been promoted recently? Changed companies? Where did they go to school? Do you have any common ground – this could be something as banal as pulling for the same team or enjoying the same hobbies.
Once you've discovered that point of interest, find a way to work it into your email in a quick and concise manner.
- Mention Your Referral Source
If you were referred to a specific interviewee from someone else in the industry, mention that person. Or if you found them on LinkedIn or by scouring the company website, try to find a connection.
Don't go all Kevin Bacon and throw out someone's name if you only met them once through a third-hand source and they might not even remember you. But if you see, for instance, that someone you've done business with wrote them a recommendation on LinkedIn, don't be afraid to mention it.
Interview Request Email Examples
Let's look at a few examples of effective emails asking for informational interviews. You aren't sending a resume at this point. You're just making an introduction and asking to talk.
Interview Request Email for an Entry-level Worker
Suppose you're an entry-level marketer looking to break into a big New York firm. You've identified a VP who attended the same undergrad as you. Your email might look like this:
Dear Ms. Smith,
I am a recent State U grad beginning my marketing career. I work for a small firm in X city. My goal is to work for a company like yours and eventually grow into a leadership role.
I have followed your career and greatly admire your work. Specifically, I love the job your team did on the XYZ Campaign.
The marketing department chair at State U, Mike Johnson, suggested that I reach out to you and see if you have 30 minutes to meet this week or next. I'd love to pick your brain and absorb any wisdom you can impart.
Thanks for your time and consideration!
Interview Request Email for a Freelancer
Or say you are a freelance writer wanting to become a contributor to a major publication. Here's what you might email an editor:
Dear Mr. Jackson,
I am a freelance writer focusing on financial topics. I write for small blogs and websites but dream of contributing to a publication like yours in the near future.
I understand that you started out as a freelancer, too. Would you be willing to sit down with me for 30 minutes — or even by phone — and offer a little guidance regarding my career goals. I have some specific ideas I'd love your opinion on.
I have done work for Susan Jones at ABC Magazine, and she mentioned that you'd be a fantastic resource. Thank you for your time.
Interview Request Email for a Career-changer
Finally, imagine you are a restaurant server looking for a career change to a higher level sales job. You might send this interview request email to a VP of sales:
Dear Ms. Barnes,
I work in the restaurant industry but am seeking my big break in a business-to-business sales role. I have followed your career and how you rose from an entry-level position to a VP in a very short time, and you are my inspiration as I look to make this career change.
I would love the opportunity to talk to you about your success and any obstacles you faced along the way. I am a people person and a lifelong learner; the only thing I'm missing is a mentor who can offer a little guidance on how to get where I want to go.
Do you have 30 minutes to talk this week or next? Thanks in advance for considering my request.
The Key Is Taking Action
You can't land an informational interview by scanning job boards and replying to postings. You must do the legwork yourself. By following these best practices, you can land interviews, build your network, and propel your career forward.
Additional Resources for Jobseekers: