Even the busiest professionals tend to be open to informational interview requests if you approach them the right way.
Who Do You Know?
But first things first: How do you decide who you’ll approach?
1. Start with your inner circle. First, reach out to your friends, family members, and advocates. Ask them if they know someone in your desired field or a related one. Request introductions to likely candidates.
If you’re nervous about the prospect, you may also consider asking one of these trusted friends to be your first informational interview partner. Even if he or she is in a totally different line of work, you can practice asking questions and talking about yourself with a friendly interviewer.
2. Expand your reach. Next, make a list of everyone in your network (if you’re active on LinkedIn, that list is just a click away). Include former colleagues, friends of friends, alumni contacts, recruiters, and acquaintances.
Note who might have useful insights to share. You will likely want to reach out to some of these folks to request informational interviews. Others may be able to introduce you to someone in their circle.
You should also think about going out to industry events that are likely to attract interesting contacts. Mix and mingle and collect business cards. There’s no need to stalk or beg. Have a good conversation and follow up later with a respectful request to meet (see below for tips on how to do it without coming off as obnoxious).
How to Ask for an Informational Interview
It’s generally best to initiate contact with an email (unless you already know these contacts well).
1. Ask for advice, not a job or a favor: Start by requesting a brief meeting to ask the person’s advice about career opportunities in the industry. Make it clear that your goal is not to beg for a job. That’s just awkward.
Most of the people you contact won’t know much about you yet and some may not even have influence over hiring decisions at their company. However, almost everybody is happy to provide advice if you make it easy for them and ask nicely (see below).
2. Name drop: If one of your friends or contacts referred you, use that person’s name in the first sentence. A request is much more likely to be prioritized if it starts with, “Our mutual friend, Karen Johnson, suggested that I contact you…”
Don’t overstate your connection to the referrer. If Karen is your sister-in-law’s ex-boss’ assistant’s cousin, don’t claim abiding friendship or you’re likely to get busted.
However, as social networking has proven, even a distant connection can provide a comfort level. Most people want to help in general and they especially want to help someone referred by a friend or colleague.
3. Be respectful: Yes, these are probably busy people. They are more likely to agree if you explain that the meeting will be short (30 minutes or less) and that you’re happy to meet when and where it’s most convenient for them.
4. Show that you’re legit: Briefly describe your current situation and why you think they can help. Here’s one way to do it: “I have been working in development for nonprofit organizations for the last three years and am currently looking for my next opportunity. I would love to hear your advice on areas to explore.”
Demonstrate that you’ve done the research and won’t be wasting her time. Show that you’re a professional and not a stalker. Attach your resume if you think it can help you establish credibility.
5. Don’t take “No” personally: I’ve actually never had anyone respond with,“No, I can’t meet with you EVER.” However, some of your correspondents may not reply for a while or may write back that they’re super busy right now, but might be able to connect in a few months.
Do not interpret either of these replies as a rejection or a judgment of you. I have been guilty of both of these responses to those requesting informational interviews. I love to provide career advice, but my schedule is sometimes hectic.
I am more likely to respond to you promptly if you follow the advice above and make it easy for me to accommodate you. Others in my network agree.
If someone says they’re too busy, ask politely when might be a good time to contact them again. If someone doesn’t reply at all after two weeks, go ahead and send a follow-up note. If a second note gets no response, move on to other candidates for now.