So, you’ve decided to link up with a connector for an informational interview. Great, but do you feel you are asking for a favor—i.e. for advice and guidance—without offering anything in return? This misconception undermines informational interviews in a couple of serious ways. First, asking for a favor can be intimidating; and second, it will limit your notion of what the informational interview is.
Focus on interests – yours and theirs
View the informational interview as a negotiation. Ask: “How do I get what I need from this interview in a way that meets the connector’s interests as well?”
Certain interests are common to nearly all connectors. Put yourself in their shoes and consider what you’re in a position to offer them, such as:
- Recognition: being valued for their expertise
- Reputation: being viewed as a facilitator or mentor
- Convenience: having their schedule accommodated (and therefore respected)
- Insight: understanding you and your perspectives on the field; and how their advice helps to advance an up-and-comer
- Utility: meeting a potential collaborator/employee who may fill their staffing needs in the future
- Affiliation: enjoying the opportunity to have an engaging interaction with an interesting (and perhaps like-minded) individual
- Status: distinguishing them as someone of prominence and importance in the field
- Appreciation: acknowledging the sharing of their time, attention, and wisdom
Interests are specific to the person. What do you know about what these people are like or would like? For instance, some connectors don’t often interact with colleagues in their field, or adjacent fields, and they may genuinely welcome the opportunity to learn from you or to hear updates about other people in their field who you’ve already contacted. Take one of Carly’s experiences, for instance:
When I was working in the conflict resolution field and considering switching careers into mental health, a lot of the psychotherapists I met for informational interviews genuinely welcomed the chance to learn from me about dispute resolution and mediation. These topics pertain to psychotherapy, but the professional paths of mediators and therapists don’t often cross. I was really happy to find myself adding something of value to those conversations.
Guidelines for requesting an informational interview
Here are some useful guidelines for requesting an informational interview, followed by a sample email. We generally make these requests over email, so we’re focusing on written requests; however, most of these guidelines apply similarly to a phone or in-person request.
Tone and content
- Do not write in a way that assumes they will say yes. You’re asking, so your phrasing should make clear that the meeting is conditional on their response: “If yes, would you have any availability the week of the 8th?”
- Your tone should demonstrate that you’re flexible and willing to make this as convenient as possible for them.
- Show gratitude and let them know you’d value their input: “I’d value the chance to ask you a few questions about your professional background and the field.”
- If they don’t know you, include a brief, engaging description of who you are and why you’re interested in meeting them. Don’t give your life story; give three or four sentences, max. In particular, mention topics or experiences that you value in common.
- Use your knowledge of a given connector or your general understanding of the field or the industry landscape to speak to other interests. If you know that they’re concerned with leaving a positive legacy, let them know that their advice will help you positively influence the future of the field.
- Think about their schedule depending on their job, their field, family situation, etc. Be sensitive to when they’re likely to be free.
- Make sure you nail down the specifics before the meeting: time (accounting for time-zone differences); location; whether or not meals are involved; phone vs. in-person; if by phone, who is initiating the call, and at what number.
- Once you have a meeting scheduled, it’s good practice to send a confirmation email a day or two before the appointed date. This is a helpful reminder that busy connectors will appreciate. It shows them that you’re responsible and lowers the likelihood that you’ll be stood up without notice.
I hope that you’ve been enjoying a wonderful spring thus far.
I am recently out of college and trying to work my way into the negotiation and conflict resolution worlds. I have been meeting with as many interesting and accomplished people as I can to hear their stories and gain their counsel. Both John Doe and Jane Smith mentioned that you would be a great person to speak with. They both spoke of your ingenuity in entering this world and, more broadly, in navigating the challenges and stresses of career-building for someone in their mid-twenties.
I would be truly grateful if you had time in the coming week to meet me for a brief conversation. I can make time during any of the days except Thursday and will happily come to you.
Thank you for your time and best wishes,
Tad Mayer is an adjunct professor at D’Amore-McKim teaching Negotiating in Business. This blog article is an edited excerpt from End the Job Hunt, a book due out in 2015. Mr. Mayer is co-author with Justin Wright (who also teaches the class) and Carly Inkpen.
Photo source: Flickr Creative Commons, Coffee time