Informational interviews are an extremely effective way to pursue a job opportunity in your company, industry or functional area of interest.
I know this from personal experience. In my recent career search, I set up over 20 different informational interviews with professionals from my chosen industry, several of which successfully moved me on to the next rounds in the application process and one of which, more importantly, helped me to secure my current position.
However, many job seekers with whom I have spoken do not feel the same way about informational interviews. In their efforts to reach out to professionals and schedule times to talk, they have been discouraged by the low response rate and the lack of results produced by any interviews actually scheduled.
It is my belief that this low response rate and these less-than-ideal results may be in part due to the specific approach taken by these job seekers both in their outreach and during their interviews. So I will break this down into two articles, today’s one addressing how to effectively pursue informational interviews and a future one about how to ace them.
To begin, here’s the message I used as a sample of an informational interview request that worked:
Subject: John – Question from an MBA Student
Body: Dear Mr. John Smith,
My name is Chris Perry, and I am currently a second-year MBA student at the Mason School of Business at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA. I am pursuing a career in marketing and specifically career opportunities at COMPANY NAME.
I would be really interested in speaking with you about your career, COMPANY NAME’s culture and your marketing team’s various programs and activities. Would you be willing to set up a short 30-minute informational interview with me in the coming week or two during which I could learn more about your career in marketing and your company?
I truly appreciate your time and your consideration.
I look forward to hearing from you soon!
Chris Perry – MBA Class of 2009
Mason School of Business – College of William & Mary
Email Address – Cell: Phone Number
Using this as a model, here are the 6 ways to improve your response rate and get the interview.
1. GRAMMAR is Your New Best Friend. I know we all use spell-check nowadays, but honestly, proofread anything and everything you write to any professional. It doesn’t matter how well they write, they have a job and you don’t yet, so make sure everything from punctuation to capitalization is perfect. If possible, ask someone else you trust to read your outgoing messages to these professionals just for outside perspective.
2. Hook Them with Your Subject Line. No matter how you know the person you want to contact, the subject of your message has to be personal and direct to catch their attention and move them to read it. In my example, I didn’t know the person beforehand, so I used “John – Question from an MBA Student.” I could have easily used “John – Request for Informational Interview.” If you do know them, I recommend “John – Request from Chris Perry” or if you don’t know them personally, but went to the same college or have something in common, I recommend something along the lines of “John – Request from a W&M; MBA Student.”
3. Briefly Introduce Yourself. In a short first paragraph, state your name, who you are and what you are doing. As you can see from my example, I kept it simple. That’s all you need. Remember, busy people don’t have time to read long messages. Keep it short, sweet and to the point.
4. Command the Common Ground. If someone who knows them has referred you or you have something significant in common with the person (i.e. college, professional organization), make sure to include this at the end of your first paragraph or at the beginning of your second. A stronger connection or link between you both can only help you get the interview.
5. They Know You Want a Job, So Don’t Ask for One! In your next paragraph, this is where you make the direct request for the informational interview; however, DON’T ask them upfront for help to get you a job in their company and DON’T send your resume to them with your initial request. They already know you’re interested in opportunities in their company or you wouldn’t be contacting them. This looks selfish and inconsiderate and your resume just implies that you expect them to take time to look at it and more time to send it to the right person BEFORE they have even had a chance to “yes” or “no” to your request. As you can see from my example, I recommend you make it more about them and ask them for the opportunity to speak about THEIR career, how THEY got involved in it, THEIR company and/or its culture.
6. Don’t Forget Your Contact Info. Make sure to have a professional email/message signature with all possible methods of contact listed. This way, you look good, but they can also get in touch with you in whatever way they prefer. You might even tastefully include a link to your LinkedIn profile, VisualCV or other supporting media online. This is more appropriate than a resume, because it offers them the option of seeking more info about you.
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