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What is the best way to initiate an informational interview?

I am looking to contact local therapist and counselors on Psychology Today. I am wondering if I should just send them an email explaining that I am an aspiring Career Counselor and ask if I can get an informational interview or should I call them? What are the best methods for an informational interview in person, by email, or on the phone? Is it possible to ask too many questions while giving an informational interview? #career-counseling #career-path #interviews #therapy

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Seth Daniel’s Answer

I agree with Ken that the phone is the best way to actually set up informational interviews. However, I recommend that you first send an email introducing yourself, explaining your purpose in contacting the person, and letting them know that you'll contact them in the next day or two by phone. It is also a good idea to include in the email that your interview is strictly for informational and exploratory purposes because of your interest in what the person does, and you believe you could learn from their experience. Assure them that while you will benefit greatly from their advice, you will not be asking them for a job. This should put them at ease.

I have asked for several dozen informational interviews over time, and I found that the introductory email and assurance about seeking information and advice without asking for a job resulted in getting an informational interview with almost every person I reached out to. It also helps to let them know the interview should last no more than 20 minutes or less (most of the time people get so involved in talking about their careers, the interviews run 30-45 minutes on average.) Most people enjoy talking about their careers a great deal to someone who is interested, so be sure to appeal to that.

Do NOT send a resume initially, but bring a printed version of your resume to the interview if it is in person and ask for feedback on it at the end of the conversation. You can even go so far as to ask if your resume would help you get an interview with your interviewee's company.
Be sure to have at least 5-7 questions ready for the interview, so you can be in control and not put pressure on the interviewee to carry the conversation. If it is a phone interview, you can always offer to send your resume to them if they would be willing to offer feedback.

Today, it is very unusual to use hard copy (snail mail) correspondence to introduce yourself prior to a call. However, it takes far more time and effort to produce and mail a well written introductory letter, and I've had feedback that the time and effort was appreciated. I used that technique occasionally when I was reaching out to senior people in very traditional organizations or who I knew to be extremely busy. A hard copy letter can make you memorable and make you stand out, but be careful not to use this for just any contact or younger contacts, because you may seem out of touch with technology. And let's face it, many very busy people don't read emails from people they don't know, so sometimes a letter will be more memorable than an email.

Thank you comment icon This is very helpful! Thank you for the great advice Seth! Mounia
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Daniela’s Answer

Hi Mounia,

Here’s a guide to help you get the most bang for your buck out of your informational interviews—and take some of the awkwardness out of the process while you’re at it.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask

Whether you’re asking someone you know and trust or emailing a complete stranger, asking someone for an informational interview can be a little uncomfortable .

But, keep in mind that this is a request most people would feel flattered to accommodate—hey, everyone likes to feel important! So don’t look at it as a cold call; rather, picture yourself as a reporter calling an expert to research an article. Send the person a friendly, concise email that gets right to the point. Try something like, “ I’m thinking about a career change and would love to pick your brain about your experience.” A compliment on her accomplishments (“…given that you’ve had so many interesting experiences in the marketing field”) doesn’t hurt, either.

Do Your Research

Having been interviewed a time or two myself , I can tell you the most frustrating aspect of these meetings is an unprepared interviewer. Remember that your interviewee is taking valuable time out of her schedule to meet with you, so make the effort to learn as much as you can about her before the interview.

Jot down a few key facts about the industry and her current or previous employer, see if you can find any articles she’s written or interviews she’s done, and try to find a few similarities between the two of you. If you’re well prepared , your interviewee will not only be impressed with the legwork you’ve put into the meeting, but will be flattered you took the time to learn so much about her. And that’s always a great way to start a conversation.

Prepare Your Questions

The best interviews, informational or otherwise, are the ones that naturally flow. But truthfully, a natural flow is much more likely to happen if you’re prepared, not grasping for conversation starters .

So, prepare a notebook with two lists of questions—one standard and one more abstract—to bring with you. In the standard category, include basic questions such as, “What does a typical day at work look like?” and “What are the most challenging aspects of your job?” In your abstract category, try less conventional questions like, “What’s your first thought when you get up for work every morning?” or “Who has been most influential in your career?”

You don’t need to ask everything on both lists, but having a range of questions will allow you to mix up the conversation based on your interviewee’s reactions. For example, if she rolls her eyes at the “typical work day” question, skip ahead to something a bit less traditional and see how she responds.

Once you find the right cadence for the conversation, it will become easier for both of you to volley your questions back and forth more naturally.

Keep it Short

Even if you’re getting loads of good info and don't want the meeting to end, it’s important to be respectful of your interviewee’s time. So, wear a watch. Regardless of how ubiquitous smartphones are these days, I still cringe when I see anyone in a professional setting glancing at her phone during a conversation.

When you have about 10 minutes left before your meeting is scheduled to end, casually mention that you want to be “mindful of her time” and note the time you have left. This gives her the opportunity to either extend the interview, or transition to a graceful conclusion. Either way, she’ll appreciate your respect for her time and your professionalism, which is a great way to conclude an interview.

Cement the Connection

One of the biggest mistakes job seekers make with informational interviews is neglecting to follow-up .

If you take nothing else from this advice, remember this: Always send a thank-you note. Always. Your interviewee should never wonder how much you appreciated the time she took to share her hard-earned knowledge with you. Remember, you never know what doors she could open for you one day.

While a paper thank-you is cute, email is de rigueur. For extra points, go the extra mile and find an article related to a topic you discussed, and include a link with your thank-you, noting how your conversation with her inspired you to read the article.

Expressing your gratitude will not only make your interviewee feel good knowing she had a tangible impact on you, but will keep the door open to developing your relationship with her in the future.

That’s it—that’s all you need to know. Now get out there and get some interviews lined up. Use LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and your friends and family, and don’t be shy about asking anyone who looks interesting to you. And remember, the more informational interviews you do, the less awkward they become.


Good luck !!!

Thank you comment icon Thank you! This is very helpful! Mounia
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Ken’s Answer

Hi Mounia!

The best way to make an approach is to do it in person or over the phone. We are relying too much these days on electronic communication and are losing the importance of interpersonal contact. When you are making an approach in person or over the phone, there is an opportunity for dialogue and a real time exchange of ideas that is not possible with electronic communication.

Let me know if and how this is helpful. Keep me posted. I would like to follow your progress.

Thank you comment icon Thanks Ken this is very helpful! Mounia
Thank you comment icon You are welcome! Ken Simmons
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Dakota’s Answer

This is a great question! The direct way is easy, just reach out to the person and ask for the interview at a specific time, don't be vague. Now a lot of things that are "easy" just sound that way. For it to be truly beneficial you should spend some time researching a few things before you reach out to someone for the informational interview. You should know what you are trying to learn, who you want to learn it from and why, what questions you are going to ask, and when you want to do the interview.

If you do those 4 things you will be better prepared to be the interviewer and the interviewee will appreciate your effort to make the most of their time.

Hope this helps!

Dakota recommends the following next steps:

Find out what you want to learn. What is the goal of your interview
Who do you want to interview? What is their title? Why do you think they are the best person for you to interview?
What questions are you going to ask? Make sure to have questions that aren't already answered on the internet/company website.
Set a time. If you give a person a specific time, like let's talk Tuesday at 3:00pm, they are more likely to say yes, if the time doesn't work for them, then you can reschedule when it does.