As I write this, somewhere between 18 and 30 million unemployed Americans are chasing roughly 6 million jobs. Some fields have more jobs than others, and some regions of the country have more jobs than others. But whether you’re searching in a good, bad, or ugly job market, informational interviewing will serve you well—now and throughout your career.
What’s an Informational Interview?
Just what it sounds like. You reach out to an interesting person and ask if you can speak to them briefly about their work, company, or career growth.
What you get out of this conversation can vary, but this is a rock-solid way to meet someone you admire or would like to know and begin to build a relationship with them.
It’s also a great way to:
- Try on a new career (by hearing what the actual work in that field is like)
- Learn more about the company or field you’re interested in
- Hear from an expert about the qualifications and skills you need to be competitive
- Get advice about next steps to take (including other people you should meet)
All of this, and more, can result from a surprisingly brief conversation.
Look for Informational Interviews at Different Levels
When you’re thinking about who to interview, of course you want to talk to people who have the kind of job you want. They can tell you what your day-to-day work life will be like when you succeed, and help you understand if being an animal trainer, a motorcycle repairperson, or a corporate attorney is really the right direction for you.
I did lots of informational interviews before I decided to make a living as a speechwriter. The most important one was with the husband of a friend who had what I thought was my dream job: communications officer at a non-profit I admired. Ten minutes into our conversation, I knew that job was all wrong for me—surprise!—and I became a corporate speechwriter instead.
So don’t stint on talking to folks at your level, but also don’t rule out talking to people in higher positions who have a broader view of the field.
Yes, you can ask a CFO or a university president, or a union leader to talk to you about their jobs, and they’ll have a very different perspective than someone who’s just starting out. (You might as well contact them, because they’re either going to say yes or no, and you’ve lost nothing either way.)
But you may be wondering…
Why Would They Want to Speak with Me?
There are lots of legitimate reasons. Many people…
- Want to share the insights they’ve worked so hard to acquire
- Like talking about their success to someone who knows and admires what they’ve accomplished (you should be very clear about what you admire before asking someone for an informational interview)
- Appreciate the chance to pay it forward by helping others
- Enjoy meeting new people, particularly those who seem ambitious and creative (which you’ll seem if you ask to meet them)
Jump Start the Relationship Before Asking for an Informational Interview
The more familiar you are with the person you want to interview, the easier it will be to connect with them in person. Here are some things you can do that will help:
- Follow them on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram—wherever they appear
- Congratulate them on those platforms when they announce a milestone, or other good news
- Find out what makes them unique and be ready to reference those things when you talk to or about them
For example, it’s one thing to write “CONGRATULATIONS” on somebody’s LinkedIn feed. It’s another thing entirely to write,
Your first three books were inspiring, but this one goes even further. THANK YOU for your roadmap on how young people can get ahead (I’ve been studying it hard!), and CONGRATULATIONS on another bestseller.
If your goal is to pique someone’s interest (and help them remember your name), you can’t go wrong with a genuine, personal compliment. The recipient is much more likely to look you up, remember your name, and be open when you contact them with a request.
You Make It Sound So Easy…
Like everything related to public speaking, the principles behind informational interviews are easy…but putting them into practice can be hard.
That’s why I recommend that anyone who’s doing something tough (like looking for a job, or just making yourself send letters to people) find an accountability partner.
Your accountability partner can be a friend, a colleague, someone you meet in a class like my 4-week Ace Your Online Job Interview course…anyone who’s reliable and is struggling with a challenge of their own.
Then you agree to two check-ins each day:
- Early in the day, you let each other know one thing you’re going to accomplish (researching someone, or writing them an email to ask for an informational interview, for example).
- Later in the day, let your accountability partner know that you’ve done that thing! (Their congratulations will motivate you to tackle the next day’s challenge.) And if you haven’t done it, agree in advance that what they’ll say is, “I’m going to call you right now and stay on the line while you do it.”
It doesn’t matter what platform you use to communicate—phone, WhatsApp, text, Twitter, whatever the two of you choose is fine. What matters is that you both show up and hold each other accountable.
I’ve used this technique many times, and it works!
But What if I Get the Conversation??? What Do I Say??
First, congratulations. You’ve caught the interest of someone you want to meet—someone who can potentially be a resource as you navigate the tough road to finding a job (and might even turn out to be a friend).
Start thinking about what you want to ask this person, and in my next post, we’ll talk about things that you should say—and not say.