INformational interviews expand your professional network; tips by Elaine Rosenblum of ProForm U80% of jobs are found through someone you know. 20% of jobs are landed by applying online.

After my first layoff, I licked my wounds and boarded a plane to New York City to find a job. My strategy was to speak to any professional in a related industry or job environment who would make the time to talk to me.

How did I find people to contact? Here is the secret. You know or are connected to many more people than you realize. Informational interviewing was how I networked, learned the ropes of the advertising business in NYC, and ultimately landed three job offers in three weeks.

Make a list of everyone who may know someone in the industry in which you plan to seek a job. Your dentist may have a son who practices the type of law you’re interested in pursuing. It could be your sister’s best friend who works for a start-up in another industry. Your goal is to find out how they landed the job, what they like and do not like about working in their roles, and what it takes to be successful.

Contact each of the people on the list and say something like this:

I am a <school> <major> graduate seeking informational interviews in my job search in the <your desired> industries. <Describe what steps you’ve already made toward your career goals, e.g., I’ve had 2 summer internships in beverage brand management at Coke and Starbucks.> I understand that your <contact> works at <company>, and I would welcome an introduction to talk with him.

Would you be willing to make an email introduction so that I can follow-up? My resume is attached.

Best,
<Your Name>

Write the above email so that the recipient could easily forward it to your desired contact. The worst thing that can happen is it doesn’t go anywhere. The risk is minimal, but the reward could be great.

What do you say and ask in an informational interview?

Having an organized outline of what you want to learn is impressive in its own right. The informational interviewee will be thrilled that you understand your exact objectives for the meeting. It makes it very easy for him. It also makes it more likely that he will be amenable to introducing you to people he knows in the industry, knowing that you will not waste anyone’s time.

First, thank the informational interviewer for his time and willingness to sit down with you. Then let him know you are interested in what he does and that you want to pick his brain to learn more about his job and industry.

Here are my favorite sample questions that work in almost any informational interview:

  • Tell me about your daily job cadence. What are the typical demands of your role? Would you say that you have a good work / life balance? This line of questioning gives you insight into the rhythm of his day. It’s a good sign if you can envision yourself in that day.
  • What motivated you to go into this line of work? What was your career path into this job? How did you get this position?
  • If you were me and looking for a job in this industry, who would you speak to and why or what would be your strategy to find a job? What would your job search roadmap look like? You may get some fantastic ideas from his answer. If he mentions someone you would like to meet in an informational interview, ask if he would be willing to make an introduction.

Be mindful of his time, although you can follow his cue if he wants to extend your time together beyond the scheduled appointment. Wrap up the conversation by thanking him. (Don’t forget that firm handshake with solid eye contact!)

Much like a job interview, you want to send a thank you note within 24 hours; the sooner, the better – but take the time to personalize it, referencing specific points from your conversation that resonated with you.

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