How to Ask for an Informational Interview (And Why You Should)

An informational interview is one in which you, the interviewer, seek advice and input about careers, industries, and/or corporate culture from a professional in the field. Note that an informational interview is one in which you ask for information, not a job. You’re simply in it for research and learning purposes.

These meetings can be an incredibly efficient and impactful way of exploring opportunities, as professionals in the field can provide great insight. But how do you go about asking for such a meeting?

Step 1: Determine what you want to know.

This step seems obvious, but is actually often overlooked. Many people jump straight to sending a request that sounds something like, “I’d like to pick your brain.”

Say, what? Put yourself in the professional’s shoes for a second and reflect on how this would feel for you. You’d probably be a bit confused, maybe even annoyed at the lack of specificity and direction.

So, get specific. What does this person know that you don’t? What would you like to learn from them? Keeping in mind that this meeting is solely about gaining information (and not a job), brainstorm the types of knowledge they can impart. For example, perhaps you’d like to learn more about industry trends, organizational culture, or resources to help you learn more. Once you’re clear about how this person can help you, you’ll be able to write a clear yet detailed request. And most professionals are willing to help out once they understand what value they can provide.

Step 2: Explain how and when you’d like to talk.

Working professionals are busy people so it’s important to be mindful of their time when asking for a meeting. I’ve seen people make the mistake of being too flexible or open-ended, saying they’d like to meet “whenever works best.” I’ve also see people make the mistake of being too demanding, asking to speak within a short-time frame like a couple of days or one week. Put parameters around your request, but find a happy medium. For example:

“Would you be willing to speak with me over the phone for 20-30 minutes within the next three weeks?”  

Clear and to the point, this question also politely explains the desired mode of communication (phone vs. in-person or Skype).

Step 3: Include a detailed subject line.

It’s likely that the person you’d like to interview receives a great deal of e-mail. Without a specific subject line, your request is likely to get overlooked. For example, imagine you received an e-mail with the subject “Hello” or “Seeking Advice.” You’d probably think this was some sort of spam, right? Instead, write a subject line that will catch their attention like: “Recent Ohio State Alum Seeking Advice About Advertising Careers” or “Fellow Aspiring Product Designer Seeking Information About Career Transition.”

Step 4: Show Appreciation.

This person is helping you by providing their valuable time and insight at no cost. Don’t jump the gun and assume that the person is going to be willing to talk with you. Instead, express your gratitude with a phrase like “Thank you in advance for your time and consideration.” Manners go a long way, and people will only want to help someone who is truly gracious.

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Time to stop scouring the web to find answers to your career questions and time to start talking to people who've been there, done that. Reach out and you may be pleasantly surprised at the outcome!