We all know that having a community of professionals to call upon - let’s call this your personal advisory board - when you’re in need of professional help is really imperative to a successful career. But what if you don’t have one yet?
As an introvert, I know that reaching out to strangers to ask for an informational interview can be a bit scary and I hope to help you through that process with this blog. We’re going to talk through asking for an informational interview and some good questions to ask during your phone call or in-person coffee/lunch. I have a part-two of this blog, coming out next week, if not already out when you’re reading this to dig deeper into maintaining these relationships and cultivating your professional community or board of advisors.
During this initial outreach you are NOT asking the person for a job. You are not reaching out because you’ve applied for a job at their organization (although this is appropriate as well, that’s not what I’m talking about here). You are reaching out because you’re curious about their company or their profession. Maybe you’ve moved to a new city and are trying to find a job and are looking for contacts in this field or you’re thinking about moving. Whatever the reason, the underlying tone is to gather information from these people and then think about how that aligns with your values, strengths and interests.
Everyone loves to talk about themselves.
I always like to state this because many people are nervous to reach out to someone for an informational interview because they think that the other person is going to think that they want something, when in reality, all they want is information about either the company or about the job that the person has.
Think about it like this. You’ve graduated from college (high school if you didn’t make it to college yet), and someone reaches out to you from your college. They’re a current student or recent grad and they found you on LinkedIn and wondered if you had a few minutes to chat about why you love your career. How would that make you feel?? You’d likely be more than excited to share the ins and outs of your industry with that person! That’s exactly how the professional will feel when you reach out to them to ask for assistance.
I know that whenever any has asked me for an informational interview in the past, I’ve been more than happy to help, whether or not I met them in real life before or not.
Asking for Informational Interviews
Sometimes, you may not be in the job search or maybe you’re in the fuzzy stage of trying to figure out what your next step is. When you’re in a sense of questioning your career, that is the perfect time to start conducting informational interviews. You’re likely feeling like it is time for a change. Maybe you’re wondering, “Is this it for my career? Will I always be doing this day in and day out? I thought there was more to life than this?” It might be time to see really where your values lie and the best way is to chat with people who are in careers that seem interesting to you.
What careers are even out there?
What do I even like to do?
Do I even like my job? 🤷🏻♀️
Exploring, at any stage of your career is crucial. How are you going to know if you’re in the “right” career for you? How do you know that you’ve found your purpose or your calling? is that something that’s even important to you?
I read in a book this week that passion is not one “thing,” that you do, passion is an energy that you feel behind an action that you’re taking. The feeling you get when you’re fully energized by just getting out of bed in the morning ready to take on your day doing whatever it is that you’re doing.
The best way to find out the answers to these questions is deep connection to yourself (meditation, journaling, yoga and talking with a coach help me) find out what works for you.
*I also have some Questions that you can answer if you go to missyscott.com/clarity to find the Qs. You get deep into what you actually want in your career vs what other people tell you to do. I know I was definitely getting information from everyone else rather than taking into account what I wanted from a career.
After you’ve finished answering the Q’s it’s time to get out of your own way and start reaching out to people to learn more about different jobs. How do you know you’re going to like a certain job if you’ve never done that job? You don’t! That’s why talking to someone in the field and someone who has done that job is SO important. Look at their interests and compare them to your interests. Ask them any questions that you have about the job or about the company they work for.
Here are some example questions to ask during an informational interview:
How did you get into this field?
What motivates you to go to work?
What’s the best part about your job?
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Why do you love the company that you work for?
What is the company culture like?
When asking for an informational interview, be short and to the point.
Your subject line should say something connecting. If they went to your alma mater you can say something like, “UIowa alum seeking career advice” or something to that effect. That way, they will see something familiar within the subject line and it will catch their eye immediately. I know that I’m more likely to open something when the person has something familiar in their subject line.
I see some students and young professionals send an email with an intention but they don’t make that intention known to the reader. They end their email without a call to action. Most of the time, said email, is really fucking long, so I know that the professional is NOT going to be reading all of it. I once heard from an employer say that he only reads and composes emails on his phone. He mentions that if your email to him is longer than his phone (meaning he’ll have to scroll), he won’t read the rest of the email. You lost him. He wants you to be short, to the point and really up front with your request.
While this can be harsh to hear, I think with many busy professionals, this is the reality of the situation. We don’t have time to read paragraphs and paragraphs. I’d rather get a call scheduled ASAP when starting to connect with someone rather than continuous back and forth via email when calling is much simpler. Yes, I’m a millennial and I like to talk on the phone, I know this is rare.
What to say within your email
Here’s a template that I normally use when reaching out to alumni and professionals that almost always works:
Subject: UIowa Alum Seeking Advice
I hope you’re doing well on this Monday morning. I am Missy, career & purpose strategist. I found your information on LinkedIn, your profile was very impressive, and I’m thinking about switching careers from career services to marketing and I see that you did that a few years ago. I’d love to chat about what that process was like for you.
I’d love to chat with you for 15 - 30 minutes. Do you have time this week? Here are some times that work for me:
Monday, April 22: 1 - 3 PM PDT
Tuesday, April 23: 9 - 11 AM PDT
Wednesday, April 24: 11 AM - 2 PM PDT
Let me know if these times work. If not, we can look deeper into this week or next week. I’m looking forward to connecting.
Kindly, [I like kindly, you might like best, regards, all the best. all good!]
Make this sound more like you when you write it but something like this, short, sweet, to the point is just what a busy professional is looking for. You make it really easy for them to say okay, here are the times that she is looking to connect, I can make a few of those times and get it on the calendar ASAP. One of my pet peeves is when a professional says, “Those times don’t work for me. Can you send me more times for us to connect?” that person clearly doesn’t want to work hard for this conversation, they want to be able to not think and depending on how strongly you want to connect with these people, you can decide how long you want to put up with emails like that.
I know that we all live in the instant world of social media but professional life is different than the ‘gram. Sometimes people go on vacation for weeks and don’t check their email. Sometimes they don’t even put an out of office reply on their personal email account so patience is key here. They aren’t ghosting you if they take a week to get back to you. Professionals are busy, especially recruiters and they likely get hundreds or more LinkedIn messages and emails every single day and might not have time to get back to everyone.
Sometimes they get back to you MONTHS later. I’d suggest following up after two weeks especially if you didn’t get an out of office reply and then keep adding a week until you’ve emailed them 4 times. Then I might file that in the back (make sure you’re keeping track of your outreach so you can continue to reach out and build that relationship in years to come) and start reaching out to new people.
Imagine how robust and impressive your network would be if you reached out to 1 - 2 new people every single week for a few years?
From Theory to Practice
This is all good and fine in theory, written out in this blog post, but it is a whole other beast to actually start reaching out to people. Remember that the folks you’re reaching out to are people too. They love talking and connecting to others.
Now is the time to start reaching out to these professionals. I have an accountability program if you’d like help staying accountable to reaching out to contacts on LinkedIn or within your alumni network. Feel free to find me on Instagram @missymscott or shoot me an email email@example.com and I can share more information about that with you.
Now that you’re equipped to ask for informational interviews, let’s talk about really making and maintaining the relationship with professionals. See part two of this series: Nurturing your Professional Community.