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Informational Interviews: How to Get Them

Chris Perry, May 26, 2011

Informational interviews have a number of things going against them. They sound boring, ineffective and hard to get.

However, an informational interview can make or break your job search if used correctly. They work because they allow you to make a personal connection with a real human being who is typically in a much better position to endorse you and recommend you internally in his/her company.

Here are some tips for effectively requesting an informational interview:

  1. No phone calls, please. Emailing or sending a message via LinkedIn allows the recipient to choose to respond at their own leisure and doesn't interrupt their schedule.
  2. Don't forget about grammar. Always proofread everything you write to any professional. If possible, ask someone else you trust to read your outgoing messages to these professionals just for outside perspective. This is especially important if English is not your first language.
  3. Include a catchy subject line. No matter how you know the person you want to contact, the subject of your message has to be personal and direct to catch their attention and move them to read it. Always include their name. If you don't know the person, consider using "John — Question from a Student" or "John — Request for Informational Interview." If you do know them, I recommend "John — Request from Chris Perry" or if you don't know them personally, but went to the same college or have something in common, I recommend something along the lines of "John — Request from a W&M Student."
  4. Briefly introduce yourself. In a short first paragraph, state your name, who you are and what you are doing. Remember, busy people don't have time to read long messages. Keep it short, sweet and to the point.
  5. Promote your commonalities. If someone who knows them has referred you, or you have something significant in common with the person (i.e. college, professional organization), make sure to include this. A stronger connection or link between you both can only help you get an interview.
  6. Don't ask for a job, that's not their job! When you request an informational interview, DON'T ask them upfront for help to get you a job in their company. They already know you're interested in opportunities in their company or you wouldn't be contacting them. Ask them for the opportunity to speak about THEIR career, how THEY got involved in it, THEIR company and/or its culture.
  7. NEVER send your resume. A resume looks presumptuous and inconsiderate and implies that you expect them to take time to look at it and more time to send it to the right person BEFORE they have even had a chance to "yes" or "no" to your request.
  8. Make yourself contactable. Make sure to have an email/message signature with all possible methods to contact you listed. This way, you look professional and they can get in touch with you in whatever way they prefer.

Here is an informational interview request example (to be sent to someone you don't currently know) that puts all of these tips to work:

Subject: John — Career Question

Body:

    Dear Mr. John Smith, 

    My name is Jane Doe, and I currently work in marketing in Atlanta,
    GA.  I am pursuing a long-term career in marketing and specifically
    career opportunities at COMPANY NAME.

    I am interested in speaking with you about your career, COMPANY
    NAME's culture and your marketing team's various programs and
    activities. Would you be willing to set up a short 30-minute
    informational interview with me in the coming week or two so I
    can learn more about your career in marketing and your company?

    I truly appreciate your time and your consideration.

    I look forward to hearing from you soon! 
    Sincerely, 

    Jane Doe 
    Email Address - Cell: Phone Number
  

I actually used these tips and this example in my own job search and experienced a very high and positive response rate that eventually led to a real job interview and my current career. Therefore, I recommend you leverage these in your own efforts to help you reach the hiring managers behind the job postings and achieve job search success.

Chris Perry, MBA is a Gen Y brand and marketing generator, a career search and personal branding expert and the founder of Career Rocketeer and Launchpad.