Informational Interviewing: How to Start the Process and Approach People

By Christine Chinn

As regular readers of “Your Career Advocate” know, I sometimes feature the writing of other people in this space. I thought this article by Christine Chinn would be an ideal selection, because so many clients have recently been asking how they can generate more networking meetings and “information interviews.” Christine’s piece provides helpful, practical tips on this subject.
– Ford R. Myers

Did you know that over 70% of new jobs are found by networking with professionals in your desired field of employment? This compelling information suggests that all job seekers ought to focus their efforts largely on conducting informational interviews with others. For me, personal connections developed through networking have always been key to finding jobs in current fields, new fields and new geographic locations. Let me share with you how I start this process of approaching personal contacts and professionals for an informational interview.

Begin by making a list of all the people you know personally and professionally. Think of those you know through churches, schools, sports, clubs, friends, kids, relatives, work, professional associations, job search groups, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. Remember, professional organizations have membership lists with valuable contact names. Also, think of companies for which you would like to work. Local business journals often publish a book of lists which details leading companies by industry. Now, you have a master list of potential people and companies with which to network. Prioritize your list of contacts by whom you feel most comfortable approaching first and by whom you have the least to lose if the conversation does not go well. Save the most important contacts, with the greatest possibility for help, until you feel comfortable with your approach.

When I am talking to someone in person, I wait for an appropriate time to say my “15-second elevator speech” tailored to introducing myself or explain my current job transition situation. I end the “elevator speech” with the question, “Do you know someone in this field, or at a particular company, to whom I could speak about their job or their company? I am interested in just sharing some information about myself and obtaining their advice or guidance.”

Remember, asking someone for help is a compliment and is flattering. Often, people will want to help you by giving you a referral. If they do not provide a name, give them your business card and ask them to keep you in mind should they think of someone at a later time. When someone shares a contact with me, I always ask if it is OK to use their name as the referral source. If they give me permission to use their name, this contact becomes a “warm lead.” A “warm lead” is someone who is more willing to help you because they know the person who recommended you. It is obviously preferable to have a “warm lead,” but you can still approach someone as a “cold lead.”

Once I have the warm or cold lead’s contact information, I draft a cover letter to introduce myself and to explain my interest in having an informational interview with them to get their guidance or advice. Or, if I only have a phone number, I make a call using this following letter as a discussion guide.

In the first sentence I state that I am writing to introduce myself and request an informational interview. Then, I mention who referred me to them, if someone did. Or, I congratulate them on a company award, successful deal or new account, etc. Here, I try to gain their attention by what I know about them or their company. In the next sentence, I summarize my professional background and my current goal of learning more about them and their company, or learning how to transition into a new field. Remember, you are looking for their advice or guidance. The next short paragraph of the letter should explain the key benefits of your professional strengths. I conclude the letter by stating that on a specific day or week, I will contact them by phone or e-mail to arrange an informational interview. Then, I mail or e-mail this letter with a copy of my one-page Professional Biography.

Finally, I call or e-mail the lead on the specific date I mentioned. During this brief communication, I refer to the recent letter and my interest in arranging a time for an informational interview at their convenience. If I am not able to talk directly with the person, I leave a message for them stating that I am calling to follow-up on my recent letter requesting an informational interview. Once the appointment is set, I thank them and end the call.

I have found that people want to help others when they can. Again, requesting someone’s help, advice or guidance is a compliment and is flattering. All you have to do is briefly explain your circumstances and request their help in a professional and respectful manner, while leveraging the “connection” of the person who referred you. I hope my method will give you a starting point from which to develop your own personalized approach to informational interviewing.

About the Author:
Ford R. Myers is an award-winning career coach and President of Career Potential, LLC. He is author of the best-seller, Get The Job You Want, Even When No One’s Hiring. Ford’s firm helps clients take charge of their careers, create the work they love, and earn what they deserve! He has held senior consulting positions at three of the nation’s largest career service firms. Ford’s articles and interviews have appeared in hundreds of magazines, newspapers, television and radio networks. He has also conducted presentations at many companies, associations and universities. Learn more at www.CareerPotential.com or contact Ford directly at 1-800-972-6588.

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