If you’re starting to feel like all of your job applications are going straight into a blackhole, it may be time to rethink your strategy.
So, where do you start?
Gain new insight by scheduling informational interviews with professionals in your field! You just have to ask them to meet you for coffee.
What is an informational interview?
When you hear the word “interview,” you probably think about sweating through your dress clothes as you get drilled with questions by someone sitting on the other side of the conference table.
This is not that kind of interview.
An informational interview is an opportunity to pick the brain of an interesting person in your field. This is not the time to ask for a job. It is an opportunity to ask some questions and create a meaningful new connection.
Who do I ask?
“You want to interview someone who could hire you one day,” a professor once told me.
Although an informational interview is not about asking for a job, the interaction could lead somewhere.
Based on my professor’s advice, I conducted my first informational interview with the president of a marketing agency I admired. An hour later, I received an email from the agency’s internship coordinator.
While you could also gain some valuable insight from talking to a recent gr working in your field, connecting with an established professional can help you find additional opportunities.
Here are some ideas for identifying interviewees:
- Make a list of companies you’d love to work for, and check out their websites to find members of their leadership teams whose career paths are in line with your goals.
- Visit your alma mater’s page on LinkedIn and click “see alumni.” You can narrow down the list by where they live, where they work, what they do, what they studied and when they graduated.
- Read articles recognizing the successes of individuals in your field, like Pittsburgh Magazine’s 40 Under 40.
- Reach out to current contacts from previous jobs and internships, and ask if they can put you in touch with someone in your field.
How do I ask?
You can find many great email templates online to give you an idea of what to say when requesting an informational interview.
Make sure you include:
- Your reason for reaching out: I see that you are also an alumnus of Kent State’s College of Communication and Information, and I admire the work you’ve done for XYZ Organization.
- Specifically what you are seeking: I’ve been having some difficulty finding an entry-level position as a marketing copywriter, and I would love to talk to you about how you got your start in the industry.
- What you want from them: I would love to chat with you over coffee.
- How long this is going to take: I’m sure you are very busy, so I would appreciate even 20 minutes of your time.
Make your email concise but clear. When jobseekers email professionals, they are usually looking for a job. Make your intentions apparent, and many professionals will be happy to help you.
What if they don’t respond?
Follow up a few weeks later to make sure they received your message, and then move on to another professional if you don’t hear back. Try not to get frustrated.
What if they cancel?
Keep in mind that these professionals are probably very busy. If something comes up, attempt to reschedule. Make sure to let them know you are understanding of their schedules and appreciative of their time. If they do not have any availability to meet, see if they can provide you with any guidance over email. Maybe they’d be willing to critique your resume or offer you some reading recommendations to learn about the industry.
Where do we go?
It is common to ask a professional if you can take them out for a cup of coffee. A coffee shop is a great place to chat casually without many interruptions, and a coffee meeting is not a huge time commitment.
Alternatively, you could request a tour of the office. This can give you a little more insight into the realities of your dream career, and it can also give you an opportunity to interact with some additional members of the team.
What do I bring?
Bring money for coffee, supplies to take notes and a list of prepared questions. I’d also recommend bringing some copies of your resume. Some people say you should not pull out the resume unless your interviewee asks for it, but I think it is appropriate to ask him or her to take a look at it and give you feedback.
What do I wear?
Because this is not an interview, business professional attire is unnecessary. But you will still want to look polished, so you should play it safe with an outfit falling somewhere between smart casual and business casual.
Since you initiated the meeting, you should offer to pay for coffee. Try to arrive first, so you can snag a table and great the professional by asking for his or her coffee order. If he or she insists on buying, offer to pay for your own. This exchange could become awkward, so don’t spend too much time debating it. If your interviewee insists on paying, say thank you and move on.
What do I order?
Don’t think too much into this. If you don’t like coffee, no need to order coffee! Tea or any other beverage is fine. You should avoid ordering food, because it can be difficult to chat while eating. If your interviewee is ordering for you, skip your usual expensive or overly complicated drink order and opt for something more simple.
What do I ask?
You’re going to want to let your interviewee do most of the talking. You should have questions prepared, but don’t be afraid to veer off script. He or she will likely have plenty of information to share with you! Let the conversation flow naturally, and use your questions to help propel it forward.
Be prepared by writing down your questions, and make special note of the questions you are really curious about in case you run out of time before you get through all of them.
How did you make your break into the industry?
Is there anything you wish you had known when you started out?
What do you like most about working in this industry? What do you dislike most?
How does your company differ from its competitors?
What other companies in the industry do you respect the most?
If you were in my shoes, where would you look for opportunities?
Would you recommend any other professionals I should reach out to?
How do I wrap up?
Wear a watch so you can keep an eye on the time. You need to be respectful of the professional’s schedule, so do not go over the allotted time without checking to see if he or she needs to get back to work.
When you are wrapping up, establish some way to continue contact. Ask if you can follow up if another specific question comes up.
Immediately follow up, either with a handwritten thank you note or an email. Continue to check in when appropriate. If he or she made a recommendation about looking into a certain company or organization, check in when you do. You can create an opportunity for a follow up by asking for a reading recommendation and then reaching out again after you finish the book or article.
Make sure to connect with the professional on LinkedIn, and you may see him or her pop up as a “second degree connection” while researching other companies.
What are the possible outcomes?
You can walk away from this experience with new insight into your job search and a better understanding of your industry and dream job.
If the interview goes well, you have established a new professional connection who may be willing to reach out to someone on your behalf.
Additionally, this professional may keep you in mind when he or she is looking to hire someone or sees openings at another organization.
Be bold, and don’t be afraid to ask for help!
Has an informational interview helped you throughout your job search? Tell us about your experience in the comments!