An informational interview can be beneficial whether you are actively searching for a new job or just trying to learn more about an industry or organization. In an informational interview, you have a casual conversation with someone who is in a position to provide you with information or advice regarding a particular industry or career path. Informational interviews not only provide opportunities to learn important information, they are also useful tools for expanding your professional network.
Once you have identified an industry or organization that you would like to learn more about, it is time to begin the process of actually finding specific people to interview. Below are four different strategies to help you find potential interviewees:
- Use your Alumni Network. If you graduated from a college or university, there is a strong likelihood that the school maintains an alumni directory. Through this directory, you can typically search for individuals within particular career fields or even in specific organizations. Many professionals are eager to help out fellow alumni, making this a great source to find potential interviewees.
- Use networking sites like Linkedin. Millions of professionals use websites like Linkedin to keep track of their professional networks. A basic membership to Linkedin is free, and by using the advanced search function, you can search for people who work at particular organizations. In addition, you can refine your search to locate only individuals who attended a particular college or university.
- Research company websites. Many company websites contain employee directories or at least provide contact information for some of their employees. By researching company websites, you may be able to find specific people to contact.
- Tap your social and professional network. Depending on your situation, you may be comfortable reaching out to friends, family members, or colleagues for help identifying potential interviewees. Social networks are incredibly expansive, and you will likely be quite surprised to find out how far yours ranges.
Making the Initial Contact
Once you have a list of potential interviewees, it is time to actually set up some interviews. If you have not been personally introduced to the interviewee by a friend or colleague, then you will need to make the first contact. E-mail is the best method for professional communication, since the recipient is sure to see your message and is able to respond to it at their convenience. Your initial contact should be brief, polite, and professional. Consider for instance the following:
Dear Mr. Sanders,
Hi, my name is Jane Doe and I am a 2007 University of Illinois graduate who is currently working as a Human Resources Consultant at Johnson Pharmaceuticals. I am exploring a career shift into finance and I found your contact information on the University of Illinois Alumni Network while researching the industry. If possible, I would love to talk with you about your experience in the field at a time that is convenient for you. I can be reached at email@example.com or at 111-222-3333.
Thank you for your time,
If you are using Linkedin, you unfortunately are not allowed to include that much text in an initial contact. In addition, you are not allowed to include an e-mail address in an invitation. For Linkedin, you could try the following:
I am a 2007 University of Illinois graduate interested in a career in finance. If possible, I would love to talk about your experiences in the field. My email address is in my profile - LinkedIn won't let me send it.
Once you make the initial contact, be patient. Resist the temptation to send repeated messages. If you do not hear back from someone, take that as a sign that they are not interested in having a conversation and move on to other contacts. In addition, resist the temptation to e-mail a large number of potential interviewees at once. When you do start to schedule informational interviews, you want to be sure that you can devote an appropriate amount of time for each one.