We’re sure you’ve heard it before: the importance of the informational interview. However, just as many people shy away from networking, so do they from the ever-dreaded informational interview. And it’s understandable! Asking someone to donate their precious time to speak with you with no real “outcome” can be a little bit daunting. That being said, the possibilities that can come from this type of interview are too great to give up. In fact, the informational interview is the job-seeker’s opportunity to show off their assets and interest in a given industry without the pressure of a formal job interview. Networking with someone you admire one-on-one is the perfect way to gain knowledge about and potentially more connections to the industry in which you’re interested – and it doesn’t have to be intimidating.

Whether you’re thinking about asking for an informational interview with someone specific, or you’re simply interested in the idea, it’s important to understand the steps to successfully requesting a meeting, executing the interview, and following up, before you send that email or make a phone call. In order to expedite this process for you, we’ve created the following guide to informational interviews. Check out the steps below to ensure success:

  1. Pick the Right Person – First, it’s important to realize that an informational interview doesn’t necessarily have to be with someone you don’t know. In fact, it may be a good idea to start with a friend, family member, or even a coworker, in order to get the hang of the process and learn some useful information in the meantime. Once you’re comfortable with the idea of meeting someone new, do some research about potential companies you would be interested in working for. Then, use LinkedIn to discover current employees of those companies. More specifically, look for individuals who are in an aspirational role, but still have time to meet with you. Chances are, Mark Zuckerberg won’t be around to respond to your emails, as much as you may want to be like him.
  2. Make the Request – While it may seem awkward at first, it’s best to be clear and upfront about what you want when contacting a stranger on LinkedIn or via email. For example, the requests that receive the most responses often start with “I’m looking for help with…” and define a clear goal. When you make your request for an informational interview, feel free to let the person know why you’re contacting them specifically – have they followed a career path that seems interesting to you? Do they have your dream job? Finally, be clear about the fact that you recognize that this person is most likely very busy, and be flexible about when and where you’re willing to meet.
  3. Do Your Research – Arguably the worst mistake you could make in this process is choosing an employee of your dream company at random and going into the interview with little to no knowledge of what that person does or has done in the past. While there’s no need to stalk the individual you’re meeting with, it’s a good idea to look into their career path and professional accomplishments. For example, a LinkedIn and an IMDB page would be plenty of information about someone working at a film production company. Whatever you do, don’t go in blind.
  4. Prepare Questions – Unlike in a conventional interview, it’s not this person’s job to prepare questions to ask you: that responsibility is completely yours. The easiest way to ensure that an informational interview doesn’t become awkward is to come prepared with more than enough questions to fill up the allotted time. That said, if you’re genuinely interested in this person (and you’ve done your research), those questions shouldn’t be hard to think of! Keep in mind that this is a chance for you to learn as much as possible about the opportunities that are out there waiting for you, as well as what path to take to get them, so take advantage of all the time you have.
  5. Remember What You’re There For – We can’t stress enough that the informational interview is not an opportunity for you to ask about job openings. While informational interviews do sometimes lead to job offers, it’s important to stray away from questions about whether the company is hiring, etc. Focus on the person you’re speaking with, their journey, and what you can learn from it. That being said, dress for the job you want – even if you’re not talking about that job.
  6. Don’t Overstay Your Welcome – As we mentioned earlier, it’s important to respect the schedule of the individual you’re meeting with. If an allotted time has been set, be sure to stick to that time. If you notice that the meeting has gone long, offer to meet another time so that he or she can get back to work. Try to notice nonverbal cues that the other person has somewhere to be, and don’t be afraid to let them go if they have to.
  7. Say Thank You – Whether it’s via email or handwritten note, be sure to send a thank you message to the individual you spoke with within 1 to 2 days of the interview. Just like a regular interview, a “thank you” can be the thing that lands you a job offer (although, of course, this isn’t the end goal). Remember that this individual took time out of their day to meet with you, with no benefits for themselves. That’s something to be grateful for!
  8. Keep in Touch – Again, no need for stalking, but connecting via LinkedIn and asking to meet up again in the future is totally okay! This individual could be a new addition to your network, and in the end could potentially be a factor in a new job opportunity. Just remember that moderation is key in all things.

Keep in mind that informational interviews do not have to open doors to job offers in order to be helpful. Quite the contrary! Sometimes, advice can be the most valuable gift one can receive, and meeting an individual you aspire to be like can be the push you need to apply to that job that kind of scares you. Once you’re feeling inspired, download Rake to get started applying for your dream job.

Also published on Medium.