by Oyindamola Shoola
During my job search, one of the things that kept me going was doing informational interviews. Doing informational interviews were very helpful for the following reasons:
Although informational interviews have continually been praised for helping people gain advocates to secure jobs, it wasn’t the case for me. The informational interviews I did were very profitable in that they helped expand my professional network and receive advise about best practices in a job search.
As a writer, I have received several emails for interviews about my work in the past, so I knew firsthand, the pet-peeves that came with poor communication for interview requests as well as unthoughtful interview questions. Especially in the pandemic when so many people were reaching out to professionals for informational interviews, I didn’t want to be lost in the mix. I didn’t want my email outreach for an interview to go unread. In this blog post, I’ll share my best practices for an informational interview.
Let’s dive in!
What is an informational interview?
According to Wikipedia, an Informational Interview (also known as an informational meeting, coffee chat, or more generically, networking) is a conversation in which a person seeks insights on a career path, an industry, a company and/or general career advice from someone with experience and knowledge in the areas of interest.
Contacting the Professional
The Question “Will you be my mentor?”
I am often weary of people who randomly reach out either via social media or email to ask a stranger or professional who they highly admire, to mentor them. While watching Shonda Rhimes’ Masterclass, one of the things she said regarding this issue which stuck with me was (I’m paraphrasing her), “If you have to ask someone to be your mentor then they shouldn’t be one for you.”
The best and most effective mentorships are those that grow naturally and out of aligned interests. Instead of reaching out of the blues to ask if a stranger can be your mentor, one of the best things to do is to ask for an informational interview. The benefit of this approach is that you have the opportunity to express curiosity about the person’s professional experience and their work, as well as introduce yourself as a person of interest. If they now decide to follow up with you or invite you to do the same, then the relationship can develop naturally from there.
One of my biggest communication or outreach pet-peeves is when people just send a “hello” in any medium of messaging. I once read an article that said saying "hello" alone in your initial communication with someone else is equivalent to saying nothing.
Personally, I also don’t like back and forth messaging. You say “hello” yesterday, I reply with “hi” today. You say, “how are you?” tomorrow, I reply with “I am fine, thanks and you?” A lot of time and valuable information is wasted doing that.
How to introduce yourself
When I reach out to someone to ask for an informational especially via email, I do the following:
Email subject – Outreach for an Informational Interview
Good afternoon (insert professional’s name),
My name is Oyindamola Shoola, I am a recent graduate of the New York University and a writer. I am also a College Success Advisor and the co-founder of SprinNG. I am reaching out to ask if you will be interested in an informational interview.
While searching among my LinkedIn network, I saw that you have expertise in the Book Publishing industry which I hope to explore in my career pursuits. Additionally, my mentor, Mrs. Alexia, your co-worker affirmed that you’d be a great person to speak with.
If you are available in the upcoming weeks, I’d love to do an informational interview to learn more about your academic background, career experience, and future outlook. I am available on weekdays from 12-5pm and all day on weekends. I can do the informational interview via Zoom, Skype or a phone call – whichever is convenient for you.
I look forward to your response and hope that you will say yes to this request. Once you confirm a date and time that works best for you, I’ll send the informational interview questions at least 48hrs ahead of our conversation.
Thanks for your time.
Other things to note:
Email subject – Follow-up: Outreach for an Informational Interview
Good afternoon (insert professional’s name),
I hope this message finds you well.
My name is Oyindamola Shoola. I am following up regarding an email I sent last week asking if you’ll be willing to do an informational interview.
Thanks for your time and I look forward to your response.
Preparing for the informational interview
As promised in my email outreach to the professional, I send the questions for the meeting at least 48hrs before our time. This allows them to think through the questions ahead and for the meeting to flow much more naturally.
Additionally, I must emphasize, do not go into an informational interview without questions planned or without doing research thinking that you’ll just wing it. Lack of preparation is disrespect to the professional’s time. Also, do not miss your own scheduled time and ensure that you reply all email communications as necessary.
In preparing for the informational interview, do the following:
While doing this research you can develop a list of questions that you’d like to ask them during the informational interview. Doing this research helps you to ask thoughtful questions that will show you are a proactive person. It will also inspire them to be more interested in you and even want to advocate for you to secure certain opportunities.
Although the goal is to expand your network and establish your ally you also don’t want to go into an informational interview with only questions asking for favors and opportunities. You want to go with questions that express an interest in whoever you are interviewing; questions, curiosity and insights that will make them interested enough to pursue you and support your interests.
I hope you find this blog post helpful and in the next blog post, I will provide a list of interesting informational interview questions that you can ask.