It’s no secret that I think good informational interview skills make all the difference in a job search. They help you meet new people, share your professional skills and uncover opportunities that you’ll never find just looking at job boards.
But asking someone for an informational interview can be a challenge. Professionals are busy and their schedules are busy. Asking them to carve out time for you can feel daunting.
The good news is that most people are very willing to share their time and knowledge with job seekers. But you have to approach the ask—and the informational interview itself—in the right way.
Follow these steps when asking for an informational interview and you’ll increase your chances of landing the meeting.
Say who sent you
People are more likely to make time if you are introduced by someone they know, so always mention your common connection. Name dropping will definitely open doors.
If you’re contacting someone by email, I suggest including the name of your referral in the subject line. This will make it much more likely that your target will open the message. Write something like:
- Writing at the recommendation of Joe Smith
- Susan Black suggested we talk
Repeat the name of who referred you in the body of your email and briefly explain why they encouraged you to reach out.
Describe what you want
Informational interviews are about information gathering and networking. They aren’t about asking directly for a job.
No one wants to be put in a situation where they are being pressured for a job—even if there is a job to be “had.” This is one of the reasons why some professionals say “no” to informational interviews.
To maximize your chances of getting a “yes,” reassure your target that you aren’t going to hit them up for a job. Instead, be explicit about what you hope to gain from the informational interview.
Don’t be vague and or ask to “pick their brain”—be direct and focused in your ask. You could say:
- I want to learn more about your profession and job prospects in the industry.
- I’d like to hear about your career and your experience working at Acme Corp.
- I’m looking to make connections in the field.
Being explicit in what you want helps you secure the other person’s time. It also makes it much easier for your target to actually help you when you do meet.
Set a time limit
The number one deciding factor in whether a professional will meet with you is time. People are busy and their time is valuable. As such you’ve got to make it clear that you’re only looking for piece of their packed schedule.
A well-structured informational interview requires no more than 30 minutes. With practice, you can get this conversation down to a power-packed 20 minute chat.
So tell your target that you only want 30 minutes of their time. This will reassure them that you’re coming in with a focused, time-limited agenda.
Include your resume and/or LinkedIn profile
No, you’re not applying for a job, but your resume provides an excellent summary of your background and those you meet will welcome this information.
Sharing your resume gives them some context for your conversation. It also saves you using valuable meeting time to rehash your professional history.
Whether in your email signature or within a succinct sentence, you can also include links to your professional portfolio, website, or LinkedIn profile so your interviewee can get a sense of who you are, beyond the contents of your email.
Be flexible with time and location
While you probably want to give a general window for when you’d like to meet, leave it up to your target to determine the exact time and place.
Offer to meet them in their office or anywhere else it might be convenient. Offering to buy them a cup of coffee at a near-by cafe is always a nice gesture.
Haven’t heard back? Don’t panic or take it personally. It’s likely that your email just got lost in their inbox.
Follow “the rule of three” with any scheduling request. I always email someone three times—spaced four or five business days apart—before I give up.
On the third try, I try a more pointed subject line that might grab their attention. Something like:
- Radio silence.
- Barking up the wrong tree?
If you still don’t hear back after three attempts, it’s time to move on.
Putting it all together
Here’s a sample informational interview request email that I might send:
SUBJECT LINE: Request for Informational Interview / Writing at Suggestion of John Doe.
Dear Mr. Smith,
I am exploring opportunities in nonprofit fundraising in Portland. As you can see from the attached resume, I’ve had considerable experience creating and leading successful development programs in Oregon and other states. John thought you would be a good source of information about the nonprofit fundraising scene in Portland, upcoming jobs in the field, and other people I might contact.
I’m hoping you might have 15 to 30 minutes to meet with me in the next few weeks. Please let me know if this might be possible and what dates and times are most convenient for you. I look forward to hearing from you.
It’s that simple!