Anytime you’re asking a favor of someone, it feels a bit awkward, and information interviews are no exception.
Generally, you’re asking someone who’s both successful in their career and really busy to give you their time and attention out of the goodness of their heart. (Okay, occasionally for a cup of coffee or a quickie lunch….) Yep, that usually triggers our automatic “do not impose on people” response, but it’s time to get over your hesitation. Why? Because informational interviews for which you’ve done your homework can be one of the most effective ways to advance both your career knowledge and your career (think network building and professional visibility) ever.
Who Should You Ask?
When you’re thinking about who would be good to interview, look for someone who seems happy and successful in their work, who seems to have made wise career decisions, and who’s indicated to you or others a general interest in and willingness to speak to those still growing their careers. If you’re lucky, these individuals will also have great communications skills, wise insights to share, and a warm and supportive demeanor. But just because someone tends more toward the cranky, introverted, and somewhat distant personality style doesn’t mean that you can’t glean great information from them.
Perhaps most importantly, you want to look for someone who:
- has experience in the areas where you have questions
- is at least somewhat positive about making time to chat with you
- seems sufficiently confident in his or her career to feel comfortable giving you honest answers
Your potential interviewee could be a higher-up (or colleague) in your organization, someone with whom you’ve connected on LinkedIn or in another social network, a person who someone else has referred you to, someone you’ve read about or a member of an association you belong to, or even a younger professional whose specialized knowledge is vital to your career exploration.
Essentially, your potential interviewee could be literally anyone who has knowledge that will help you gain more insight into a potential job, career path, employer, or industry.
How Should You Ask?
Assume that if people are successful at their jobs or careers, they’re probably very busy, i.e., pressed for time. In fact, time may be their most precious commodity. So your request for an interview needs to first acknowledge that fact. Then you want to briefly introduce yourself, state your request for an informational interview, and identify what information you’re hoping to gain. Finally, you want to specify how much time you’re hoping to spend interviewing your contact, and suggest alternatives for the discussion (e.g., a phone interview, meeting for coffee or lunch, or via e-mail correspondence). Your goal here is to make it clear to your potential interviewee that you’re ready to work around his or her schedule.
Here’s how that request might look (sample e-mail):
My name is Frieda Farnsbarger, and I’m just beginning my career as a data manager for a large healthcare management firm. I have followed your comments in the LinkedIn data management group, and admire your realistic approach to the profession and your insights. I know that your successful career must mean that you are quite pressed for time, so I appreciate your consideration of this request.
If possible, I would like to have an informational interview with you regarding your career path, your insights into the data management field and its possible growth path, and any advice you would have for someone just starting out in this field. I’ll prepare some questions for us to discuss, so you wouldn’t be responsible for any preparation or preliminary work. I’ll keep the interview brief, no longer than 20 or 30 minutes, and would be happy to connect in the most convenient way for you: by phone, over a cup of coffee or lunch, or via e-mail if that’s your preference.
Thank you again for considering this request for an informational interview, [name]; in the meantime, I appreciate your ongoing counsel and advice in the LinkedIn Healthcare Management group.
By being appreciative and respectful, you’ll find that if you chose your potential contact wisely, you’re most likely to get a “yes” response. Good luck!