If you are interested in breaking into a new career or just want to learn whether a new career might be right for you, chances are someone has suggested you go on “information interviews.”
An information interview is a brief meeting with someone in a career you are interested in learning about. It gives you an opportunity to learn about the career while meeting people in that industry.
To arrange an information interview, start with your network of contacts (family, friends, and acquaintances) to ask if they know anyone working in the field you want to learn about. If possible, go beyond getting a name and telephone number or email address. Ask if they would get in touch with people they know in the industry to see if you can contact them to ask a few questions.
While it usually doesn’t hurt to ask for an introduction to anyone, realize that some people may not be eager to make introductions. At Monster.com we read about a man who expected a stranger he’d met just a few minutes earlier (a friend of a friend) to arrange a meeting for him with an executive at Paramount Pictures so he could learn about the entertainment industry. He was shocked when the man refused to do so. However, it was unreasonable to expect a stranger to risk his own reputation by giving him a personal referral to a movie studio executive.
If no one in your network knows anyone who works in your career field, you can try arranging meetings by making “cold” contact, i.e. contacting people you don’t have a personal connection with.
One option is to use the professional social networking site LinkedIn if you’re not yet using it. LinkedIn lets you search by job title to find people working in your field. It’s free to search and send requests. If you want to guarantee that your message will get through to people you are not yet connected with, you can pay to join LinkedIn Premium for a month or longer. Prices currently start at $29 per month for job-seekers.
Another option is to do an online search and start emailing. But instead of contacting experts you find listed at the top of Google search results — who are likely to be flooded with similar requests — dig a little deeper past page 1 of Google to find experts who are likely to receive fewer requests.
You might also consider offering to hire experts for a half hour or longer consultation about their career field or industry. We’ve found experts are much more likely to respond positively to requests offering to hire them, and some may offer to talk with you for no charge
Although you are conducting an “information interview,” it may be better to avoid using that term when you first call or email. Many professionals assume someone who wants to set up an information interview is actually looking for a job, not simply looking to learn about the profession. So they may decline to meet with you if they do not have any current job openings.
Instead, it may be better to say that you are doing research and politely ask if you can arrange to meet with them for 15-20 minutes to learn about the career. People are much more likely to agree to a meeting if they know it won’t take too much time.
It’s important to remember that while some people are generous with their time and encouraging to newcomers, others may simply be too busy with work to agree to be able to meet with everyone who wants career advice. Someone who works in a career field that many people are trying to break into may be inundated with requests for information interviews every week.
If someone you contact says they don’t have time for a meeting, politely ask if they know anyone who might be available to talk with you.
Be prepared that someone may not be available for a personal meeting but may be willing to answer questions on the phone or by email.
If someone agrees to a meeting, arrive on time and come prepared with a list of questions such as the following:
Let the person know when the 15 or 20 minute time limit is up, say you know they are busy, and offer to leave. If they are willing to continue that’s fine, but don’t stay longer without permission. Thank them for their time and any referrals they were able to provide.
Most importantly, this is not the time to ask for a job. A direct request puts the person who has done you a favor by meeting with you in an awkward spot. You can, however, ask if they will keep your resume to pass along and keep on file for future job openings.
After the meeting, send a thank you note to the person you met with and, if someone referred you, thank that person as well. Making a good impression in an information interview can lead to fabulous future opportunities.