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How to Ask For An Informational Interview

March 25th, 2013

This is a follow-up post to Friday’s Help: How can this job seeker get results from his phone calls and emails?

There are awesome, excellent comments in that post from job seekers and career experts.  A lot of the comments have the same theme.

Take some time and read through Wayne’s process and then read through the comments, suggestions and advice.  Wayne is a smart guy and the fact that he’s got this process (a) documented and (b) that he does it is pretty amazing.  The comments are all very, very good.

So, instead of me telling you what the others have already said in their comments, let me tell you how I ask for an informational interview.  I’ll give you two options to choose from.

I think the main thing to understand, and you get this from the comments on Friday’s post, is that you are a peer/colleague to the person you are contacting, not a needy, whiny, begging job seeker.  You bring value to the table and are not desperately hoping there’s a job offer to be had before your 20 minutes are up.  Important question: what is the objective of an informational interview?

With that in mind, here is what I most often do:

OPTION 1:

Subject: Call this week? (or, Follow-up from Friday)

Body: Hi Wayne, how’s it going?  I found you on LinkedIn and was hoping we could get on a call in the next week or two.  I’d specifically like to talk about what you think about how Obamacare is going to impact our industry.  I am hearing conflicting opinions and would love to know what you think, based on your experience and current role.

Can we get on a 20 minute call this week or next week?  Let me know if there is a time that works best for you.

(email signature - even if you have to take some stuff out or change it so it’s on-brand for this message)

Now, understand, I’m pretty casual.  If you want to beat this up in the comments, go for it.  Tell me what to do better.  Of course, understand that the example above is hypothetical (I’m not really asking anyone about Obamacare in the industry). I like how SHORT Option I is.

Here’s another style that I really like.

OPTION II:

Subject: Call on Wednesday?  (something VERY specific, and the intent is that this Subject isn’t going to cause you to delete it simply by reading the subject)

Body: Wayne, I found your LinkedIn profile while doing research in our industry. Yours kept coming up in my searches. (put this email into context… where did you find this person… which might be something like “I met you at…” or “I saw you at the ___ event….”)

I would like to get your opinion on how Obamacare is going to affect our industry. I see you have experience in a few different companies over the last 15 years in this industry and as the VP of Whatever Company, I’m guessing this has been a hot topic.   (please let the person know you aren’t going to waste 20 minutes of his life dabbling on about garbage.  Yes, I have had this happen multiple times :( If you can specify what you might talk about that let’s them know this is a purposeful conversation)

Can we get on a 20 minute call in the next week or two?  I have some very specific questions, and am happy to share what I’ve learned from other executives in the industry on how they are going to handle the 50-person issue. (ASK FOR IT! And notice, I snuck in some value add for the person… I don’t think it’s necessary but as an executive or strategist I always like hearing about what others in the industry are doing right or wrong.)

I look forward to hearing from you,

Email Signature(same comments as in Option I)

What is the purpose of this call?

Is it to ask for a job?

Is it to let the person know you are ready for a transition?

NO!  The purpose is to start a professional relationship.

Some coaches will tell you that you need to have a different type of conversation, but I think you need to establish a relationship with the person first.  Once they begin to “know and trust” you, then you can have other conversations, but don’t start off needy.

Start off as a peer and colleague.  Start off as someone who has something to GIVE.  Start off as someone who they WANT to have a relationship with.

There will be a “right time” to say “you know, I’m looking at a change… who should I talk to.”  It might be at the end of the first conversation, it might not be.  But if you have a 20 minute conversation (aka, informational interview) and you don’t have a stronger relationship with that person, you’ve wasted 20 minutes.

And, you might end up on some people’s black lists.  In other words, they might think “that person is needy and wounded… I just don’t have time to help and give and save… ”

What do you think?

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2 Responses to “How to Ask For An Informational Interview”

  1. Wayne Gillespie says:

    As far as I can tell, there seems to be 2 basic schools of thought.
    In an ideal world, the purpose of the call would, in fact, be to establish a professional relationship. As such, the above Options are both very good and I would not hesitate to employ either. Unfortunately, it may well take 2-4 “touches” per contact to establish the beginnings of a relationship (assuming the contact is not known at all to the job seeker).

    However, the real world may dictate some other variation – say, school of thought # 2.
    If a job seeker targets say 25 companies of interest (could be more if the particular industry of choice is experiencing weakness) and 3-5 contacts per company, the numbers begin to mount. Add to this another say 25-50 (at least) “thought leaders” whom you would like to establish a relationship with but have no interest or opportunity in working in their organization, and you are over 100 people that you now have a professional relationship with.
    In addition, depending on the level of employment you are seeking, it could take several days to actually reach a contact to begin the process in the first place (perhaps longer if that level is Director or above).
    So where does all of this leave you?
    No doubt, in the end, with a great network but at what cost? Possibly months and months (or longer) for the process to bear fruit (employment plus a solid network) not to mention the possibility of economic insecurity, or worse, as the process lengthens – etc. etc.

    School of thought # 2 may well need to be some much shorter variation ie. – you tell the contact that you are experiencing a job transition, would like the contact’s views on a couple of industry issues, what keeps the contact awake at night about the industry, opportunities, challenges etc. Lastly, since the contact has graciously given his time, ask him if there is anything you could do to help him out (although this may have already been accomplished in the exchange of info about the industry – your experiences may be of great help to him or you may be able to offer him some advice). Speaking of advice, don’t hesitate to ask for that either.

    Then you need to “touch” on a regular basis.

    Clearly, I am no expert – merely a job seeker going through the process. I suspect the answer, if there is a definitive one, will be somewhere in between all of the above.

    All in all, it is a fascinating, often frustrating, study in human behaviour – particularly, my own.

    Wayne G.

  2. Jason Alba says:

    You are right, Wayne… I think my two approaches above are for a long-term career management, strong network that can pay off over years.

    But if you are desperate and don’t have time to spend creating those relationships, you need to find some middle-ground.

    Here’s the intriguing thing – as my network has strengthened, and people come to “know and trust” me, I’ve gotten job offers.

    Real job offers. It’s crazy, all my job search tactics from when I was in a job hunt didn’t get me anywhere but in a black hole, but once people (a) saw what I did or could do, and (b) knew I was genuine (or whatever it was they thought was great about me), the real offers came through.

    Let me step back a bit… when I talk to some people about how they got their jobs, sure it was through their networking, I learned they got it after applying on … Monster!

    There’s isn’t ever any single RIGHT answer, but all the stuff I was doing before was misguided and ineffective, and it would have been, in the long-term, better to work on long-term professional relationships.

    One last thought – in the comments from Friday some people are saying that you need to tap into your existing network… perhaps that would be a significant change of focus, at least strategically, that could lead to some great introductions.

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