Changing careers? I am a big fan of researching a profession before jumping into it and informational interviews are crucial to the process. However, there is a way to do them right...and ways to have your informational interviews backfire!
If you find informational interviews daunting, or want to master the art of the informational interview, keep reading!
Ready? Let's start with what not to do.
The Don'ts of Informational Interviews
In order to have a successful informational interview it's really important to create a conversation that invites openness and authenticity from the start. These are some of the faux pas I find particularly counterproductive in the informational interview process:
1. Asking for an informational interview in the hope of getting hired
People do not respond well to feeling manipulated. When you ask for a meeting (whether virtual or in-person), it is very important to set the right expectations. Informational interviews are requests for information. You are looking for information you cannot find other than by talking to specific people (e.g. to find out what a profession is really like day to day). The person being interviewed is generously sharing their time and knowledge with you, they are giving you a gift. It is profoundly inauthentic to ask for an informational interview and engage instead with the goal of getting a job. The person who came to the meeting in a spirit of connection and generosity might feel manipulated and lied to. It is certainly possible to be invited to interview for a job during or after an informational interview (this happened to me more than once!) but it is not to be sought after or expected. It will only happen out of authentically relating to one another.
2. Asking for "what they have"
Don't approach someone saying things like “I want to be like you,” “How do I build a business like yours,” etc. Your informational interview is for you to create your own business or career. Saying you want what they have might make you appear insecure, or a bit too invasive (see #5).
3. Implying their profession is something anyone can do
Every single professional or entrepreneur works really hard to be where they are. And when someone is really, really good, it may look like what they do comes “natural” to them or is child’s play. Have you ever watched a 5 min TEDtalk? And have you tried to give a 5 min talk? You get my point. I have personally had someone asking me how to be a coach while implying coaching is not a real profession. Oh, and why don’t I teach it to them in 30 min? It’s 100% legit to think some professions or businesses are not good. However, understand that your negative judgement will not help you connect, and in fact will backfire by making a very bad impression on the person who agreed to give you their time and attention. As a career coach, I recommend you only go after jobs or business ideas you really want and respect. If a profession is something you look down upon or think is not that great, skip it altogether and follow your true calling instead ♥
4. Expecting your interviewee to tell you whether a career is right for you
It's important to learn who is qualified to give advice and who isn't. Even the most successful professional cannot tell you what to do. First of all, if they have never really talked to you until the informational interview, they simply do not know enough about you to give you specific advice. They can share their experience and some trends or opinions, suggest a few next steps, but are not knowledgeable enough about your specific skills, talents, and situation to give you the advise you on what to do in life. Secondly, and even more important, you need to develop enough confidence to make your own decisions. This is why coaching is not the same as giving advice: any good coach will work with you to unlock your own insights and will not tell you what career to pursue. That's your choice. Informational interviews are designed to gather information. It's up to you to choose what to do in life based on what you learn in the process.
5. Asking intrusive questions
Just because someone agreed to answer your questions, it doesn't mean you can ask them any question you want. Remember you are talking to human beings who - just like you - might not always feel comfortable sharing. For example, some people might feel fine sharing what they make, but many more won't. So don't ask stuff like "How much do you get paid?" or "How do you get your clients?" unless you have the rapport needed for such personal questions. Ask instead "What is the range of salary one can expect as [specific profession] in [specific city or state]?" If they want to, they will share their pay in the answer. And if they don't you will still get the range. Same with the clients question: "What are the most common ways [specific business type e.g. career coaches] get clients?" Your interlocutor will then have the option to choose whether to divulge how they get clients or give you a more general answer. Remember: you are looking for information to create your own business, not do exactly what they do.
6. Offering to help because you feel you have to
Already, last, but not least, this is one of my pet peeves. Please do not use deep spiritual teachings as a way to manipulate others. Giving is well known to be a powerful way to grow as a spiritual being and to create deep relationships. When you ask for help - as you did by asking for an informational interview - you create a powerful space in which someone gets to give selflessly and you get to experience receiving unconditional generosity. Some of us have a real problem with receiving and will then ask "what can I do for you?" at the end of the informational interview. Do not transform an act of generosity into a quid pro quo exchange! Gratefully acknowledge the wonderful gift you have been given, enjoy the opportunity you just had to connect with a fellow human being, and if you want to do something, pay it forward. Next time someone asks you to share your knowledge, help them in the same spirit of generosity that was shown to you. There is something absolutely magical about stepping away from transactional interactions and into real sharing.
Of course, if you truly feel you want to help, or the conversation lends itself naturally to your offer of helping, then go for it! Just make sure it comes from a place of authenticity and connection ♥
Now that we got what not to do out of the way, let's chat about what to do to have a successful informational interview!
The Do's of Informational Interviews
1. Do your research
There are tons of different ways to gather information - do not waste your time and your guest's time by asking them questions whose answers you could have easily found on Google. Learn all you can learn first online (or in books!), and then use informational interviews to get the information you cannot find otherwise.
2. Be Authentic
Be open and honest about why you would like to talk to them. If you are exploring changing careers, you can say just that. Share what you are exploring and why you are getting in touch. It's also a good idea to share how you found them. This doesn't have to be long, just something like: "I am looking to change careers and exploring a possible move to data science. As I was researching the field, I found your article about [say what it was about] on Linkedin and loved it!"
3. Be present and be curious
Yes, you have a list of prepared questions. Yes, you did your research. Yes, you want to find out specific things about a specific profession. But don't forget that you are connecting with a fellow human being! It's very likely there is so much more to what they do and to their knowledge that you ever imagined. So enjoy the conversation, be there with them, be "in the moment", engage in the conversation with curiosity...you might be pleasantly surprised as to what comes up!
4. Stay positive
Everyone already understands something must not be working for you if you are looking to change careers - so there is no need to get into that. Focus on sharing why you want to change careers, what lights you up, the good things you already have in your life. Check your negativity at the door!
5. Respect their time (and money)
When you ask someone for an informational interview, be very clear about how long you would like to talk to them - and stick to it! If you asked for 30 min of their time, check in at the 25 min mark and wrap things up unless you get explicit permission to keep going. Even then, don't overdo it.
If you agreed to meet in person, it is on you to go where it is convenient to them. The person you approach for an informational interview is doing you a favor. Make it easy for them.
Psst - this should go without saying... never expect them to pay to meet with you! This is a really big no no. If you ask them for an informational interview, they agree, and then suggest you to meet for lunch, expect to pay for their lunch and yours (unless they insist otherwise). If you cannot afford or don't want to pay for lunch, do not agree to a lunch meeting. Have a call or coffee meeting instead 😉
6. Ask good questions
Prepare a list of questions you want to ask ahead of time - make sure your questions are open questions that leave a lot of room for answers. Remember that you might not even know what to ask about, so you want to invite answers that might cover aspects of a profession you didn't even know existed or mattered that much. Your questions should include some that are very specific to what you are researching, time and place. I put together a list of questions you can use for any profession, click below to subscribe and get instant access.
7. Follow up
After you have the informational interview, remember to send a brief Thank You email to the person you talked to. Do not add them to your mailing list without their permission and don't use cheap tactics such as emailing them an article you think they'd like a week later "to stay in touch." Instead, focus on building the right relationships organically. If you had a good connection during the meeting or if you truly encounter a piece of information you think they might find helpful, get in touch. It's so important to build genuine connections, and you can only do that when you act from a genuine place.