The Networking World's Best-Kept Secret

Skylar Wooden and Katie Butler

October 31, 2016

Networking should not be a superficial way to meet as many people as possible. You’re looking for a genuine connection. When an opportunity arises, you want the person you network with to think “Oh, he/she would be perfect for this.” Without that genuine connection, they might look back and wonder whatever happened to that “girl with brown hair that was in…marketing…?” The informational interview is a great way to achieve the former.

An informational interview sounds like the most boring networking tactic out there. It should really be more aptly named. Let’s go with “professional coffee date.”

In our previous post, 5 Ways to Purposefully Network, this type of interview is referred to as the “networking world’s best-kept secret.” How many people have told you about their experience with an informational interview? Probably very few. For most, this is a newer concept. We’re going to talk a little about the ins and outs of the informational interview so you can boost your networking skills!

How to Set it Up

Ask. You will be surprised by how many successful people in your field are willing to sit and chat with you about what you aspire to do, how they got to where they are, and the advice that helped them along the way. To set up an interview, write a professional email to him or her, explaining the following:

  • Who you are
  • What you do
  • How you got their name
  • What you would want to accomplish in an interview

With luck, he or she will respond to accept your invitation. If not, don’t be discouraged.

Who to Ask

If you’re a college student, or have graduated from college recently, you’ll find that professors are a great resource. Not only do they have a lot to share with you, but they might know faculty and staff who you could benefit from meeting. Likewise, if you’ve done an internship in your field, you might ask your internship supervisor if they have contacts that would be willing to speak with you about your career.

Start your inquiries with people you know, but don’t ask just anyone. Ask someone who you feel will give you the most relevant contact. By choosing contacts with intention, you’ll have a better chance of finding someone who shares, or once shared, your interests and goals.

What to Ask

This is your short window to gain as much meaningful information as possible. Make sure to not waste it on questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Before going to the interview, understand exactly what you want to achieve. Prepare, but remember that you still want this to be a comfortable conversation.

Here are a few example questions that will prompt a thorough answer:

  • What was your biggest hurdle throughout your career?
  • What made you want to be in the career you have now?
  • What is most fulfilling about your job?

Follow Up

Treat the follow-up just like any interview. Thank the person for their time. Be sure to make it personal and mention something specific that resonated with you. If they know that you were grateful for their time and that you listened to what they had to offer, you’ve done well.

Have you had an informational interview experience that you’d like to share? If so, comment below and let us know what you learned! Look for our next blog on the importance of self-care.

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