In the last piece, I discussed best practices for conducting an informational interview. But how do you go about getting one in the first place? How do you get time with a president of a company or organization?
Get a personal introduction, find mutual connections, or seek a potential contact out online or in person.
However, a quick warning: Asking for an informational interview is distinct from asking for help with a job. Even if you are actively looking for a job, you need to be clear when you approach someone that you are only asking for information.
Asking if someone knows of a position, or if he or she can help you get into a company, are two of the quickest ways to make the conversation very brief, perhaps even reduced to the word, “No.” Because often the case is that they don’t, won’t and/or can’t.
Think about it: If someone already has a job at a company, what’s the likelihood that they’re searching the company website to see what other positions are open? Even in their own department, they often have no clue. Further, are they going to use their ‘political capital’ to go to bat for a stranger? Not likely. (But look for the upcoming article on sponsorship and how and when someone will use their leverage to help you get a job.)
So if you start by asking directly for a job, you’re missing the point. You want to build a relationship and gather valuable info. This requires a level of trust and rapport.
That’s why the best way to get an informational interview is via a personal introduction. Ask your friends, associates, and family if they know anyone. You might be surprised who knows whom, and you only need one good introduction to get this process flowing! Don’t be afraid to ask widely and broadly – a friend of one of your parents or godparents or an acquaintance at church all are perfectly good candidates to ask for an introduction.
Keep broadening your circle until you have someone who can provide the introduction. Then ask your connection to put in a call for you, or to introduce you via email.
If this is not possible, look for a contact through your professional associations, networking groups, and ‘web friends.’ Can you connect to this person on Linked In? Are you both members of an interest group on Facebook, or even a local professional association?
If you have some connection, definitely reference it. Even if not, the first step is to make contact. Send an email – keep it short – and ask for 15-20 minutes of their time. Be clear why you are contacting them, what you want to get out of the conversation, and why you want their expertise.
Here’s a secret: To make this tool work for you, you have to do (almost) all the work! You have to make it easy for a person to schedule time to talk with you. Offer to set up a time on their schedule with their administrative assistant. You can conduct an interview by phone (usually the easiest), but you can also ask for an in-person interview.
Make sure you respect this person’s time. Remember they’re doing you a favor.
So go out there, make connections, and build your network. Good luck!
Next up: The Multitude of Uses for Informational Interviewing
Aurelia Flores is Senior Counsel at a Fortune 500 company and former Fulbright Fellow who graduated from Stanford Law School. Her website, PowerfulLatinas.com, offers stories of success, along with resources and programs focused on Latino empowerment.