Building relationships with new professionals is an important part of moving towards a fulfilling career that is aligned with your future goals. It can be helpful if you are looking to pivot careers, change jobs, or grow yourself in your current role. I personally try to schedule at least 3-4 meetings with new professionals every month to continue to expand my network and my knowledge. This type of networking meeting is called an informational interview, which is a meeting with a person to learn about an occupational function, industry, or career path.
People sometimes get confused on the actual intent of an informational interview. It should not be used to ask for a job or to ask someone to forward your resume. I like to use it as a way to expand my own knowledge of things happening in different industries or in my own career field. It’s interesting to learn how different companies operate or what problems or challenges people face in their roles and how they solve them. Informational interviews are what helped me pivot my career several times because I learned what skills were needed along with where to access resources to help me gain new knowledge or skills.
What is in it for them?
I know that it can be intimidating to ask busy professionals for their time so what is in it for them? First of all, people want to help others going through a shared experience whether it be a similar career path or transition. Especially these days, people that are fortunate enough to have a job want to help those who might be looking for one. They may also see it as an opportunity to expand their network and knowledge and you never know when you might be able to provide them something from your network or knowledge base.
Providing information during an informational interview helps professionals validate their own career identity of being a subject matter expert in their field. People enjoy talking about themselves and sharing their career journey. Put yourself in their shoes. It feels good when your story can inspire someone else and help them in their career.
What steps should you take to find people for informational interviews?
- Create a list of occupational functions, industries, companies, or job titles you are interested in exploring.
- Use your contacts, LinkedIn, your alumni network(s), professional associations, or the Teal community to identify people in these areas. Use a tool to track all of these contacts and their information. The Networking Contacts Tracker is a tool located on the Teal Member Platform that you can download or copy and use to record all of your contacts.
- Join Lunchclub which is a networking platform that matches you with other professionals based on criteria you set up to help you expand your network and reach your networking goals. Use Teal’s referral link to skip the waitlist for Lunchclub!
How do you reach out to people for these meetings?
Email is the best medium for cold outreach. You can locate emails via mailscoop.io or hunter.io. Teal Pro members can access our Informational Interview Guide to get a template on how to write an email request for an informational interview.
When you reach out to someone requesting an informational interview, make sure to include the specific goal of your meeting. Avoid the common line, “I want to pick your brain” and instead be more specific with your reasons for the meeting. Maybe you want to learn about their career path to becoming a data scientist or you want to find out what steps they took to transition from the finance to tech industry. Also, don’t ask for more than 20 minutes of their time and make it easy for them to schedule by providing a few times/dates or a scheduling link generated by a tool like Calendly.
LinkedIn messaging is a great 2nd choice. If you don’t have LinkedIn Premium or are already connected to a person, you can send them a very short message via a connection request. Just know that this message is limited to only 300 characters and letters, numbers, spaces, symbols, and emojis are counted as characters.
You can also use other social media platforms to reach out to people. You can do @mentions or send DMs on platforms like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc. A lot of founders of startups can be found on Twitter and so that is a great place to start conversations.
How to prepare for an informational interview
Once you have reached out to schedule an informational interview, the next step of the process is preparing for the meeting. You want to do as much research as you can on the networking contact so that you have some background on them personally, their career path, what they do now, and anything you have in common with them.
This is also a time to start thinking about and crafting your questions so that you come prepared with what you want to discuss in the meeting.
Here are some sample questions to ask in an informational interview:
- How did you get into this field?
- What is your typical day like?
- What is culture like at your company?
- How do you see the industry changing in the next few years?
- What skills are most important for this role?
- What networking groups or associations might be good for me to join to learn more?
Teal’s Informational Interview Guide located on the Teal Member Platform provides a long list of additional questions separated into different categories such as industry, company, job function, career path, etc. Being prepared with good questions and being clear about your intentions of the informational interview will set you up for success and a possible future professional relationship.
Stay tuned for the next article in this series on the art of following up after a networking meeting and maintaining those relationships!