How do you politely ask for an informational interview?

What's the best way to ask people in my network for an informational interview without making it sound like I need a favor? — Mani R.

Great question, Mani! Kudos for understanding the importance of conducting informational interviews. This is one of my favorite — and one of the most overlooked — networking tactics, especially for those who recently graduated college or are considering a career change.

What Is an Informational Interview?

The concept of an informational interview — also known as an informational conversation — was first introduced by Richard N. Bolles, author of the book “What Color is Your Parachute?” In his book, Bolles recommends that job seekers set up interviews with professionals working in their fields of interest to collect more information before choosing a particular career path. The goal of these information-gathering sessions is not to necessarily get a job lead — though that can happen. Instead, the focus of these informal conversations is to gather intel so you can make smarter decisions about your career path.

Not only is this a great tactic when you're trying to narrow down your career goals or you need help launching a career transition, but it can also be helpful in gaining insight into a prospective employer you're targeting as part of your job search.

How to Request an Informational Interview

Step 1: Prioritize your connections

Think about your current career goals, taking into account the industry, the line of work, and the employers in which you're interested. Then, take a good look at your first and second connections via LinkedIn to leverage connections during the job search who currently works or previously worked in that field, industry, or for that company. Prioritize those contacts first.

In addition to the people who are directly connected to the industry or company you're pursuing, make a list of the people you consider to be the “social butterflies” among your circle of friends. Malcolm Gladwell, the author of the book “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference,” refers to these people as powerful “connectors” and an important gateway to other valuable connections. The natural connectors in your personal network, regardless of their industries or professions, will likely be able to introduce you to people you would not meet otherwise.

Step 2: Be specific with your request

Your network can't help you if they don't know what your job goals are or what type of help you're looking for. Simply stating “I'm looking for a job. Can you help?” won't get you any closer to landing a job. Instead, be thoughtful about who you approach and what you ask for.

For instance, some people in your network might be able to share their experiences working in a particular field or industry, while others can provide insider information on a desirable employer's interview practices. When you reach out to a networking connection for help, be clear with your request.

If you're planning to reach out to someone you don't know personally, make sure your objective is spelled out in your subject line. Here are a few sample subject lines to try out:

  • Looking for advice about the [field or industry]

  • Friend of [mutual acquaintance] who needs your advice

  • Fellow [your industry or function] professional who needs your advice

  • Fellow [your alma mater] grad looking for advice

  • Big fan of your work looking for advice

Step 3: Ask for a call, not a coffee date

In the past, I always defaulted to the standard informational interview request of “Can I pick your brain over a cup of coffee?” — and I believe the approach is still worth your while when you're reaching out to a friend or close connection from your professional network. There's nothing wrong with catching up over a cup of coffee and asking for some advice.

However, this type of request is not as effective when you're approaching someone who is practically a stranger. In those cases, you're better off asking for 10 minutes of someone's time over the phone. A 10-minute phone call requires less investment from the other person than a face-to-face (or screen) meeting. As a result, they're more likely to agree to share their pearls of wisdom with you.

Sample Emails Requesting an Informational Interview

Hi [Name],

Our mutual friend, [mutual acquaintance], recommended I reach out to you as I'm currently exploring a career change and am interested in learning more about [industry or field]. Based on your profile and what [mutual acquaintance] shared, it's clear you've had a successful a career [at a specific company or in a particular industry or field]!

Would you be open to speaking for 10 minutes next week? I'd love to learn more about your experience [with a specific company or in a particular industry or field].

Thanks in advance for your help. Take care and have a great day.

[Your name]

Click on the following link to check out Danny Rubin's free email samples.

Related: The 8 Best Questions to Ask in an Informational Interview

Questions to Ask During an Informational Interview

  1. Can you tell me about your career journey and how you got started in this field?
  2. What mistakes or setbacks did you encounter in your career, and what did you learn from them?
  3. What do you enjoy most about your job and the industry you work in?
  4. What are the typical responsibilities and day-to-day tasks in your role?
  5. Are there any specific skills or qualifications that are crucial for success in this field?
  6. What are the current trends or challenges in the industry that you believe are important for someone entering (or transitioning to) the field to know?
  7. How has the industry or your job evolved over the years, and what changes do you anticipate in the future?
  8. What advice do you have for someone who considering a career in this industry or field?
  9. Are there professional organizations or networking groups you recommend for someone looking to connect with others in this field?
  10. Can you share any tips for finding internship or entry-level job opportunities in this industry?
  11. Can you share any valuable resources, books, or online courses that could help me learn more about this industry or role?
  12. What are some of the biggest misconceptions or myths about working in this industry that I should be aware of?
  13. How do you see my existing skills and experiences being transferable to this industry, and are there any gaps I should address?
  14. What advice do you have for someone like me who is considering a career change and wants to make a successful transition?
  15. Can you connect me with other professionals in the industry who might be willing to share their insights or experiences?

The Goal of an Informational Interview

Use these valuable conversations to seek advice, insights, and information about a specific career path, industry, or company from someone with experience in that area. It's important to keep in mind that the goal of an informational interview is notto secure a job lead. While this may occur naturally, it shouldn't be your primary objective. Instead, the goal of an informational interview is to gain a better understanding of a particular career path, industry, or company, and to establish valuable connections. Proceed with this in mind.

How to Follow Up After an Informational Interview

The lessons you learned in kindergarten also apply to your job search. As Come Recommended's Heather Huhman points out, manners matter. Thank the person for taking the time to speak with you and follow up with a thoughtful thank-you email within 24 hours of your conversation.  Click on the following link for three powerful thank-you emails you can write in under 30 seconds.

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TopResume's career advice expert, Amanda Augustine, regularly answers user questions like the one above from Quora. A certified professional career coach (CPCC) and resume writer (CPRW), Amanda has been helping professionals improve their careers for over 15 years.

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