First things first: informational interviews are different from job interviews. They're granted as a favor by the interviewer to help you better understand an industry, company, or job. They're also an opportunity for you to learn about the other person's career, ask questions, and fill gaps in your knowledge. Approached in a smart way, they can expand your network, bolster your knowledge of your intended field, help you hone your "personal salesmanship" skills, and even help you land that coveted job interview.
Here are three steps to getting informational interviews:
1. Develop your network
In the real world, who you know is often as important as what you know. And unless you have a rare skill or an outrageously impressive résumé, you'll need help from your network in order to get a great job. Your potential professional contacts consist of almost every category of people you know personally and even more that you don't know yet:
- Your family and their friends
- Your friends and their friends
- Industry contacts provided to you by the career services office at your college and the people these contacts are willing to introduce you to
- Contacts obtained through professional social networking sites (primarily LinkedIn)
2. Use your network
Now that your network has been organized, work it—aggressively! Put some feelers out and ask, "Does anybody know anybody?" If you're wary of imposing, remember that everyone who ever had a job went through some version of what you are going through. Most people vividly remember their first job search and therefore are likely to help with yours.
First, reach out to all your friends and family (immediate and extended members), because you never know who they might know. For instance, you might want to get into advertising and your Uncle Fred is a fireman. While it may seem unlikely he can help you, it may turn out that a marketing firm is the corporate sponsor of the Little League team Uncle Fred coaches . . . and as a result, Uncle Fred has become friendly with its creative director, whose son is the team's center fielder. But remember, you won't know any of this unless you ask Uncle Fred.
Then there’s your college's career services office. Unless you were born with a silver spoon full of contacts in your chosen profession, you need to develop a great relationship with your career services office. Specifically, you need to befriend one or two influential individuals. You do so by calling them by name, confiding in them your hopes and dreams, and generally developing a meaningful relationship with them—and they’ll care about you and your job search.
One of the easiest and most effective ways to establish a relationship with your college's career services office is to visit as early as possible (preferably during freshman year). Starting early will also give you a focus for your course selections as well as a focus for getting internships.
The message here is that getting a great job is now too competitive to wait until senior year. When talking to recent college graduates about their job search, the number one regret I hear is, "I wish I started earlier." Visit your career services office as soon as possible.
It is also worth noting that the resources of in these offices are not only for current students but are also available to alumni. Since few alumni avail themselves of said resources, it is sometimes easier as an alumnus to stand out and get high-quality attention from the staff.
3. Ask for help
Depending on the relationship you have with a contact, how you go about getting an informational interview can vary widely. In the case of Uncle Fred and the creative director, for instance, Uncle Fred might tell his friend that you'll be calling, or he may introduce you directly. In most cases, though, a short e-mail that explains your situation and your interest in talking to the person is the best approach. This is certainly the case for professionals you don't know. Here is an example of an initial e-mail you could send to a contact given to you by your career services office:
Dear Mr. Jones:
I am a student at Bowdoin College, Class of 2015. I am very interested in pursuing a career in [fill in the blank], and I was hoping I could meet with you to hear your thoughts about [the industry, company, or specific job]. I will be in the city the week of [whenever]; however, I could meet with you anytime that is convenient for you. My résumé is attached.
I understand your time is valuable, and I very much appreciate your considering this request.
Looking for more guidance—perhaps in video form? Check out these YouTube videos from the author: The Bigs On the Importance Of Informational Interviews and The Bigs On How To Get Informational Interviews.
© 2014 Ben Carpenter, author of The Bigs: The Secrets Nobody Tells Students and Young Professionals About How to Choose a Career, Find a Great Job, Do a Great Job, Be a Leader, Start a Business, Manage Your Money, Stay Out of Trouble, and Live A Happy Life