How to ask for an informational interview

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How to ask for an informational interview

Welcome to Stick to the Script, a regular feature where we get experts to tell you what to say in sticky money situations.

Informational interviews are often cited as an important part of professional development. But how do you ask for one, exactly?

We talked to Russ Finkelstein, founder and managing director of ClearlyNext, a career-coaching startup, to talk about when and how to ask for informational interviews, plus what to say once you have someone willing to talk.

When to ask for an informational interview

Most people see informational interviews as a job searching tool, but Finkelstein warns against that attitude.

“The moment you say to yourself, ‘I’m unhappy and have to find something new, so I need to network’, you’re putting pressure on the system,” he says. “You're networking with the goal of having a very specific result, and that creates tension.”

In fact, Finkelstein says networking is being open to exploration and conversation without having expectations.

The best time to start networking is when you’re not looking for a new job.

What to say when asking for an informational interview

“There are people who are accustomed to getting requests all the time, so you have to differentiate yourself,” says Finkelstein.

That means that you need to do your homework, he says.

“You want some thread of shared experience that makes people see themselves in you,” he says. “Find an interesting point of connection or someone you have in common.“

Examples could include that you went to the same school, have mutual friends or even have lived in the same city.

But Finkelstein says that you don’t need to worry if you don’t have a personal connection.

“Be really thoughtful,” he says. “Why are you reaching out this person? Is it purely based on their role? If it’s just their title, you’re gonna have to dig deeper.”

Good options include:

  • “I read about you in this article."
  • “I saw you’re doing this special work.”

“The goal is to convey that you don’t want to talk to everyone, you want to talk to them,” he says.

Looking for a job? Here's where to look.

What to ask during an informational interview

When networking, you should have an idea about what you’re looking for before reaching out to anyone.

“You should go in saying there’s a purpose for this conversation,” Finkelstein says. “For some people, their focus is on just having a lot of networking conversations, which is not useful if you don’t have an idea what you’re after.”

Things to think about: why are you reaching out to this person specifically? What do you hope to learn from them?

Finkelstein suggests these options:

  • “I haven’t quite worked out what forever looks like, so it’s useful for me to meet with lots of interesting people like you.”
  • “I want to understand the culture of your company.”
  • “I want to know what it’s like to work at X company versus others in the same field.”
  • “I’m interested in what marketing looks like across industries.”

Depending on how the conversation goes, it may make sense to ask for other people to talk to.

You could say:

  • “Are there other people in this industry that you think I should talk to?”
  • “What are other companies you admire that do a good job or that you should take a look at?”

What you don’t want to do, he says, is waste people’s time with questions that you should know the answers to going in, like what the company does. And again, don’t ask for a job.

“Networking is about being open in the day to day and investing in your professional life,” he says.

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Image: Nastia Kobzarenko