I’m shocked and amazed by how few entrepreneurs do informational interviews. Hell, a lot of people don’t even know what they are: "An informational what?"
Here’s what you need to know about informational interviews, the reasons even entrepreneurs need them and how to score one for yourself.
What is an informational interview?
An informational interview is a chance to learn about a specific job, industry or organization. You’re not pimping your resume or asking for a job or a connection (and, if you do, you’re doing this wrong). Basically, you’re sitting down over coffee and having an informal chat with someone about his or her work or industry.
The point is to gather information (hence the name), so you can make well-informed decisions for your career or business. It’s a great way to learn about breaking into a particular industry, growing in your current one or just looking at your options.
Why you want one
Informational interviews are especially important for aspiring entrepreneurs. If you’re not quite sure which direction to take in your business, it’s your chance to feel things out before you decide to seek funding, quit your job or pursue a particular direction.
If you’re using an informational interview to suss out your options, one of two things may happen:
1. You get confirmation that the path you’re going down seems to be a good fit. You like what you hear about this direction and everything seems to line up.
2. You dodge a bullet. You get some new information and learn that the direction you were considering is littered with red flags. This industry segment is not actually what you want, and you’re glad you found that out now.
Both of these outcomes are great, by the way. More information means better decisions.
What do I say to get an informational interview?
Thank goodness for the power and anonymity of the interwebs! Creep people on LinkedIn, check your Twitter feed, look up the people behind the cool startups you want to learn from. This is how you find your people. It’s even better if you have a friend who can introduce you to someone you want to speak with. The chances of the person actually saying "yes" goes up exponentially.
Once you know whom you want to talk to, keep your request short and sweet. In your email you want to:
- Say who you are in a sentence or two. Resist the urge to tell your life story because a. It’s a waste of their time, and, b. This person doesn't care.
- Say that you want to learn more about this person's work and hear about his or her experience. Add that you’re not asking for a job or a connection (major ick factor).
- Ask if he or she would be willing to speak with you.
- Say you’ll come to where your target person is and work around his or her schedule. You're receiving a favor if this person agrees to talk to you, so make it easy for him or her to say yes.
No really, what do I say? Like, exactly.
Your email might look something like this:
I’m a product development manager and I’ve been working in this field for 10 years. At this point I'm considering leaving the corporate world to develop something of my own. I’m not looking for a job or connection, but I’m interested in learning more about your work, and specifically your own experience with the ______ industry. Would you be willing to connect? Coffee is on me, and of course I’m happy to work around your schedule at whatever location is best for you. What do you think?
Thanks in advance,
The rejection factor
Not everyone you ask for an informational interview will say yes. That’s understandable. People are busy.
Some people won’t even respond to your email. If you get antsy, wait a week or two, then send a polite follow-up. Maybe the silence means no, but maybe this person just forgot about you, in the inbox shuffle.
The point is, sometimes you’re going to get rejected. I think that’s why so many people avoid reaching out for informational interviews in the first place -- it’s a vulnerable thing to do. Do it anyway. As an entrepreneur, reaching out and asking for things is something you need to get used to.
Also, cast your net wider than you think you have to. The more information you gather, the better decisions you’ll make.