Informational interviews — have you heard of them?
They're the best kept secret that many job seekers and working professionals should be keen to add to their arsenal for the perfect job search preparation. Despite some misconceptions, these aren't just for college students who are hoping to score their next internship. Informational interviews are for all levels of professional experience, whether you’re a job seeker or not, and are really just another form of networking. Not only are they a great way to get to know others in your industry, but they can help you meet others at a specific company/industry you're thinking about trying on for size, and see what skills are required to do so. Maybe you’re interviewing for a job opening and this person works for your prospective employer, or perhaps you’re simply curious about what life as a (fill in the blank) looks like. Either way, making this sort of personal connection certainly can’t hurt!
Not sure where to start? Begin with these three steps:
1. Identify the employers and individuals who you admire professionally.
2. Do your homework and research them and/or their company thoroughly.
3. Leverage your current network to determine whether any introductions can be made organically. (Your best friend’s mother’s former colleague is now a hire manager at a company you’re interested in working for? Great! Send a letter to ‘em!)
Once you've established your very own list of "awesome," now it's time to reach out and actually land one of these informal interview(s). The most common way to request a meeting is to write a letter of interest via email or LinkedIn messaging. The key is to be concise, to the point, and clear about your intent.
Know that your subject line and matter is important in any letter of inquiry; your target is likely a busy person who receives a lot of requests such as yours. Before you hit send on that message, be sure that your message communicates your ask clearly, respects their time, and (bonus points) identifies how your meeting will reciprocate value for them taking time out of their busy schedule to meet you.
Because this can be a daunting task, let's break it down and make it easy - here's a sample to help you write an effective letter of interest and land that first meeting.
Letter of interest sample:
Subject Sample: “Aspiring [Position]—Would Love to Ask You a Few Questions” or “Aspiring [Industry] Professional Looking for Advice From the Best” OR “Completely Agree With Your Thoughts on [Topic]” - choose and tweak which subject best fits your situation.
Dear [first name],
My name is [your name], and I’m a [job title] who works in [your industry and location]. I’m reaching out because [insert intent here and feel free to include a little bit of flattery if warranted (but not too much!)]. I’d love to learn more about [one to three things you’d like to learn from the person - ideally more than one].
I’m sure you’re very busy, so any time that you can spare would be appreciated. (If you have an example of how this meeting will benefit them, now is the time to point out how). Thanks again for your time.
You might also include your resume as an attachment, if applicable to the situation. On the one hand, giving the recipient of your letter a slightly better understanding of your work experience by including your resume is a good idea. On the other, you don’t want want to (literally and figuratively) send the wrong message — i.e. that you perceive this meeting to be closer to a formal interview than a conversation. Unless your potential informational interviewer is connected with a specific job opening, that’s likely to feel a bit confusing.
If you’re sending this inquiry letter via LinkedIn, the dilemma has been solved for you — the recipient can obviously get an idea of your background by looking at your profile. If you’re sending it via email, though, perhaps try including a link to your portfolio, if you have one, before sending your resume. (And regardless, know these people will probably look you up on LinkedIn anyway — so don’t over-sweat it!)
Below are some additional tips from Fairygodboss for writing effective email. By employing these hacks, you’ll hopefully up the chances of your letter of inquiry being read!
1. Earn — and protect — your email reputation.
You know that friend of yours that sends you all kinds of things? The friend that will send emails with chain letter forwards (“Just send your favorite recipe and add one more name to the bottom of the list to pass it on!”), the latest viral video or just coupons to events? Well, you might love that friend and you might even read every other email you get from them, but if you want to make sure your emails are read in a work context, you don’t actually want to be that friend. If people know you to send stuff that actually matters — and not just entertainment — chances are high that they will read what you send them, too. On the other hand, if you develop a reputation for sending trivia, or even junk, your emails might not even get opened.
2. Make it personal.
Making it personal means a bunch of different things. For starters, you should address the email to an actual person. “Hey” is never as good as “Hey Jack,” and “Hi Jack” is probably even better. Unless you are in constant contact and on very familiar ground with the person receiving your email, it’s just polite. People appreciate being acknowledged and their name is just the tip of the iceberg. Everyone appreciates when their work is recognized and likes to receive thanks or gratitude if appropriate.
3. Keep it simple.
Why write two sentences when one will suffice? Brevity is important. Anyone who has opened an email that looks like it’s a few paragraphs long can tell you their instinctive reaction is something like: “This looks like a lot of work.” Email is a funny communication medium because its contents could be as short as a text message or as long as mini essay. If you want to make sure your email is read, keep it short and sweet. Anything that needs a longer email probably shouldn’t be an email in the first place. Ask yourself whether you could accomplish your goal more effectively with a phone call or in-person meeting as compared to a long email.
Of course, for the purpose of a job search, most of your communication is going to be happening via email anyway — so your best bet is to keep it brief! Three paragraphs max, but two paragraphs (as demonstrated in the sample above) is even better.
4. Write it well.
There’s nothing that will stop someone from finishing your email faster than something that is painful to read. If your run-on sentences don’t make sense, or your grammar and spelling mistakes are so large that they become a distraction, then people aren’t going to like reading what you’re writing. Which means it’s far more likely they’ll simply stop and go on to something else. Writing an email well doesn’t mean trying to craft a top-notch essay; it just means respecting your reader’s attention span and time by putting things concisely and communicating efficiently and effectively.
5. Follow up.
Even the best written email can be ignored. Through no fault of your own, the fact is that most people are completely swamped with managing their emails and tend to get to non-urgent matters when they can. Sometimes that means your emails will get ignored until a later time (or sometimes just ignored, period). If you can’t circle back in some other way that’s appropriate, emailing a second follow-up letter asking the recipient whether they got a chance to think about or read your former email is perfectly acceptable… and some might even say, completely necessary. If your follow-up letter doesn’t earn a response, though, don’t take it too personally. Write a letter to someone else in an equally enticing position — you know they’re out there, and that there are plenty of people who are willing to talk to you!
Hopefully, these tips will help you send a letter that will result in you getting a specific job, make contact with potential employers, or at the very least, boost your networking skills!
Karen Schneider works for bareMinerals in Global Packaging + Creative Services and has worked in a variety of industries over the span of her career, including digital media, fashion & apparel, and wine & spirits. She is currently a contributor to The Muse and Career Contessa and has been featured on Business Insider and Harvard Business Review for her career advice. She's obsessed with learning, life, and career/self-improvement.
40 Questions to Ask in an Informational Interview
Use information you know about the company or industry within your questions to show your knowledge base and seriousness.
For example, to make No. 7 more relevant: “As an accountant at a medium-sized local firm, your busiest season probably revolve around your clients’ fiscal-year ends, which can vary. What would you say would be the most demanding times of the year for your firm’s accountants?”
State of the Industry
9. Is this field growing enough so that there's room for someone like me?
10. Are too many or too few people entering this profession?
11. What developments on the horizon could affect future opportunities?
12. This industry has changed dramatically in the past five years. What have you seen from inside your company? Where do you think the changes will happen in the next five years?
13. How frequently do layoffs occur? How does it affect employees' morale?
14. Why do people leave this field or company?
15. Who are the most important people in the industry today?
16. Which companies have the best track record for promoting women and minorities?
17. Are there opportunities for self-employment in your field? Where?
An example of how to make No. 11 more relevant: “I’ve noticed that the state and federal governments have devoted a great deal of funding to the biotech industry in Western New York. What effects have you, as a salesperson for Life Technologies, seen from this extra funding, and how do you anticipate the industry and your company expanding due to this revenue?”
Money and Advancement
18. What would be a reasonable salary range to expect if I entered this field? What is the long-term potential?
19. What is the advancement potential in the field? What is a typical path?
20. How did you get your job?
21. If you could start all over again, would you change your career path in any way? Why?
22. How long does it take for managers to rise to the top?
23. What is the background of most senior-level executives?
An example of how to make No. 19 more relevant: “From the alumni database, I see you graduated from the MBA program just four years ago and are already a vice president at the bank. That’s impressive. Please share with me the typical path from entry level to VP in the banking environment, and what people can do to move fast within that process.”
Skills and Experience
24. What educational preparation would you recommend for someone who wants to advance in this field?
25. What qualifications do you seek in a new hire?
26. How do most people enter this profession?
27. Which of my skills are strong compared to other job hunters in this field?
28. What do you think of the experience I've had so far? For what types of positions would it qualify me?
29. Can you recommend any courses I should take before proceeding further with my job search?
30. What companies or industries do you think I should target?
An example of how to make No. 25 more relevant: “I read through some of the job descriptions on the HR section of your website in preparation for our meeting today. Most jobs I’d be interested in listed communication, teamwork and decision-making skills as necessities. Can you tell me how those skills are used in this profession? Also, what other skills do managers look for that are not written in the typical job descriptions?”
31. Do you think my objective is clearly stated, realistic and achievable?
32. Considering my background, how well do you think I would fit in this company and/or profession?
33. How does your company compare with others we've discussed?
34. Would the work involve any lifestyle changes, such as frequent travel or late-night business entertaining?
35. Considering all the people you've met in your field, what personal attributes are essential for success?
36. Taking into account my skills, education and experience, what other career paths would you suggest I explore before making a final decision?
An internship-focused alternative to No. 36 might be: “Thinking about the most successful interns you have had, what was it about their character, work ethic, abilities and performance that made them exemplary?”
37. Where can I write to get up-to-date information on salaries, employers and industry issues?
38. What professional journals and organizations should I be aware of?
39. Is there anything else you think I need to know?
40. Who else would you recommend I speak with? When I call, may I use your name?
Remember to express your appreciation and to follow up with a thank you letter or email. If you are referred to another professional for assistance, make sure you let the original contact know the result of your outreach to that new referral.
Knowing networking is critical to their search, most job hunters work hard to arrange face-to-face meetings with contacts.
But setting up appointments with all the friends, professional acquaintances and corporate executives you can is just the first step. More important is knowing what to say once you arrive. Wasting contacts' time is unacceptable, so you should prepare an agenda before each meeting. Decide what you would like to find out and prepare questions to elicit that information.
To simplify the query-writing process, review the following list of questions. Pick those that are most appropriate and tailor them to fit your situation and speaking style. Form some of your own as well, but don't try to squeeze in too many questions. It's better to leave contacts wanting more than to wear out your welcome.
What Work is Like
1. Could you describe one of your typical workdays?
2. What skills are required in your position on a day-to-day basis?
3. What parts of your job do you find most challenging?
4. What do find most enjoyable?
5. Are there any negatives to your job?
6. How many hours do you work in a typical week?
7. Which seasons of the year are toughest in your job?
8. How would you describe the corporate culture?