Using the Informational Interview to Build Your Network
Unless you are an extrovert who thrives on social interaction, you probably won’t enjoy going to large events, introducing yourself to strangers or trying to make casual conversation. This can be especially intimidating if you are a student or perhaps if you are new to the city.
Even though there aren’t many physical networking events taking place nowadays, they are still taking place virtually. But the good news is that this isn’t the only way to network. An informational interview, also known as a ‘coffee chat,’ is an informal conversation with a professional working in an area of interest to you. This type of networking has proven to benefit those who are looking to learn about a career path, to discover what life is like working for a certain organization, and to expand their networks in a specific field.
This blog post will act as a guide to prepare you for your next informational interview.
Step 1: Find professionals to reach out to
So, where do you find professionals that are willing to meet with you? LinkedIn can be a great place to start. By searching for industries, positions, and companies that interest you, you are bound to find at least one professional that you would like learn from.
Some LinkedIn professionals will also include things like “Let’s connect!” or “Reach out to me for assistance with [x]” on their profiles to show that they would be more than happy to discuss with you.
Additionally, if you know anyone at school, at work, or in your social circle who might know a potential match for your informational interview, do not hesitate to reach out to them!
Step 2: Reach out to professionals
Once you have selected someone that you would like to learn more about, send them a formal message to request and schedule a meeting, whether that be through LinkedIn, email or text.
Here is a sample email that you can cater to your own interests:
Subject line: Interested in your experience at [X]
My name is [X] and I’m a student interested in [X]. I came across your profile on LinkedIn and I am very interested in learning about your experience, particularly your [transition/ accomplishment/ job]. If you have a moment to chat on the phone sometime within the next few weeks, I would love to learn more about your career experience.
Is there a time between [X:XX AM/PM] and [X:XX AM/PM] on a [Monday] or [Tuesday] that works best for you?
Looking forward to hearing from you.
Step 3: Research and plan your questions before the meeting
Once you have a meeting booked, you want to start preparing. This is a great time to research the professional’s career path, their office/organization/firm, their area of focus, their professional accomplishments, and trends in their industry.
You should also plan out the questions that you will be asking them, for example:
- How did you get started in this profession? How do most people get started?
- Please describe a typical day; what are some of your key responsibilities?
- What do you most enjoy about your work? What do you find most challenging?
- What essential skills, qualifications, and experiences have enabled you to be successful in your line of work?
- If you were getting started in this field of work today, what training and experience would you seek out to acquire?
- How did your career path lead you to what you’re doing now?
- Is your career path typical? If not, how do people tend to move in or around the area?
- What trends do you feel will impact the field in the next 5 years?
- What sort of things do you like to do outside of work? What strategies do you use to maintain a work/ life balance you enjoy?
- Is there anyone else that you would recommend that I speak with to further explore this career path?
Step 4: Business etiquette during the meeting
Even though this is not a job interview, you still want to put your best foot forward and make the informational interview worth yours and their time. Practice good business etiquette by arriving to the meeting on time (whether in-person or by phone or video chat), introducing yourself, making eye contact, dressing appropriately, etc. You also want to ensure that your phone ringer is off to avoid any text messages or alarms interrupting your conversation.
Overall, remember that you are building your own professional reputation!
Step 5: Follow-up after the meeting
It is important to show gratitude as this professional took time out of their busy day to meet with you. Send a ‘Thank You’ email within 24 hours of your meeting, as well as follow up on the referrals provided to you. For example, if they recommended that you speak to a colleague of theirs, it would be appropriate to ask for that colleague’s contact information or let them know how that meeting went.
Here is a sample ‘Thank You’ email that you can use as a skeleton, but we recommend making this message as genuine as possible:
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. I really appreciated learning more about your overall career experience and [specific discussions that you had]. I liked what you said about [recall something from the conversation]. Thank you for your helpful advice and I hope you have a great rest of your day.
I look forward to keeping in touch with you.
Once you are done following up, take some time to reflect on your learnings, what you think went well and how you can improve for your next informational interview.
Lastly, do not forget to pay it forward and do not be afraid to connect others with your network! Successful networking is reciprocal.