With the start of the new year, you may be thinking about making a career change. According to Glassdoor, January is the month employees are most likely to think about changing jobs, likely resulting from a combination of hiring managers who have refreshed their budgets and job applicants reconsidering where they want to take their careers in the new year. One of the most effective ways to learn about a target company or industry is to conduct an informational interview.

In my career, informational interviews have opened many career opportunities. Informational interviews I conducted with alumni of my university led to professional introductions that helped me land my first radio journalism internship and later, my first consulting job. After moving from the US to the UK, an informational interview with a former company employee resulted in them later forwarding my CV directly to the hiring manager, which eventually led to my first marketing role in the country.

Informational interviews tend to be less formal than interviews but more formal than casual networking chats. They do take time and effort. And not all informational interviews will result in concrete opportunities. However, conducting informational interviews should be part of any effective job search strategy.

The Purpose Of Informational Interviews

In a nutshell, an informational interview is a short conversation between you and someone in a particular career, industry, location, role, or company who can share their experiences with you. The person seeking information is there to ask questions. The person being asked the questions can then share opinions, advice, and personal perspectives.

These conversations can enable you to learn about a specific career path, company’s culture, required skills, and hiring processes. At worst, you can learn something about a career path you’re considering, which could help inform your career choices and interview responses. At best, these informal conversations may open doors to introductions that lead to concrete job opportunities.

But first, you have to convince someone who likely doesn’t know you to take time out of his or her busy day to speak with you. To maximize the chances of a positive response, make a good first impression by writing an effective outreach email, following the structure below.

1. Write A Clear, Concise Subject Line

Use a very simple subject line stating exactly what you want, mentioning the specific industry, role, sector, company, or location of interest. A few examples:

  • Informational interview request to learn about [industry/role]
  • Introduction from [referrer’s name]
  • Willing to share your perspectives on [topic]?
  • Request for 15-minute call to discuss [industry/role]
  • [Your job title/situation] seeking perspectives on [industry/role]

2. Open By Using The Recipient’s Name

This may seem obvious, but I’ve been on the receiving end of many emails that don’t even open with any sort of personalized greeting. Make sure you actually use the person’s name in the salutation so it’s clear your email isn’t just a form letter sent to lots of people to see who will bite. Politely address them by their appropriate title and last name. The level of formality required depends on the cultural or regional norms where the recipient resides, but in general, one of the following can work:

  • [First name],
  • Dear Ms. [Last name],
  • Hello, Dr. [Last name].

3. Personalize The Introduction

Paragraph one: Briefly introduce yourself, explain why you’re reaching out (be specific), and mention how you found them. For example:

My name is [First Last], and I’m currently [job title, background, and/or current situation]. [Referrer’s name (if applicable)] mentioned that [something about the recipient’s relevance to your situation] and shared your contact details with me. [Something positive about person/role/organization.] I’m reaching out to request an informational interview with you to learn more about [specific topic/industry/role/company].

4. Specify Reasons For Informational Interview

Paragraph two: Make it crystal clear exactly what you hope to gain from the informational interview and what prompted you to request this specific person’s perspectives. Sharing this is important because it helps the recipient understand their relevance to your situation while also signaling you’ve done your background research, making it clear this isn’t just a blind, random outreach or copy-and-pasted form letter.

I’m particularly interested in [1-2 specific topics where personal perspectives are helpful]. I believe your insights and experiences as someone [reason you contacted this specific person].

5. Request Meeting, Acknowledging Limitations

Ask for what you want while conveying you’re aware of this person’s busy schedule. Make it clear exactly what’s involved and how much time the meeting will take. For example:

I was hoping for a brief 20-minute conversation with you to ask you a few questions about your experiences. I understand you must be very busy, so we can do this at a time and manner that’s most convenient for you, either via a Zoom/Teams call or at a convenient location near you. If now isn’t the best time, I’m of course happy to speak in a few weeks or months when you may have more bandwidth.

6. Close With Clarity and Appreciation

Your job in the closing paragraph is to reduce any friction involved with this person agreeing to your request. Make it clear exactly what the recipient should do if they’re up for speaking with you. Include your contact details. For example:

If you’re open to doing this, feel free to let me know what time and place could work best for you. You can reach me at [phone number] or [email] and welcome to learn more about me at [relevant website or LinkedIn URL].

While optional, you can also signal your interest in helping them. People who have reached out to me for informational interviews in the past have offered to share a relevant resource or helpful app. Others have mentioned they’ve been spreading the word about our company’s new product. Just this week, I had someone offer to bring me something from the US over to the UK in advance of a coffee chat in London. While no one, including me, necessarily expects anything in return for their time, an attempt at being helpful is certainly a nice gesture.

And don’t forget thanking the person at the end. For example:

If there’s anything I can do related to [mention any value you could add given your situation or professional background], do let me know. I look forward to having the opportunity to speak with you and appreciate any time you can spare to share your perspectives that I’m sure will be helpful.

Thanks so much for considering my request.

-[Your name]

Personalization Is Key

No single formula exists for any piece of written communication. The framework above is simply a starting point. Nothing stops you from adding your take on an informational interview request. Anything you can do to humanize and personalize your message will only help.

Also, you’re not limited to email communication alone. A carefully crafted LinkedIn message, social media message, or even video message (if you’re feeling brave) can reduce the chances of your email getting lost in someone’s busy inbox.

What matters most is that you ensure you’ve taken the time to research the individual you’re contacting so you can customize your outreach accordingly. Do your initial homework on the industry, organization, sector, and/or role you want to discuss so you can come across as a prepared candidate and focus your informational interview on hearing some insights only an experienced individual can offer.

When done regularly and effectively, informational interviews are an effective way for you to gain useful perspectives, expand your network, clarify your career goals, get some insider advice, and in some instances, access the hidden job market.

Reach out to someone today. You never know where one simple chat can send your career.

About Joseph Liu

Joseph Liu helps aspiring professionals relaunch their careers to do work that matters. As a keynote speaker, career & personal branding consultant, and host of the Career Relaunch podcast, his passion is helping people gain the clarity, confidence, and courage to pursue truly meaningful careers. Having gone through three major career changes himself, he now shares insights from building & relaunching global consumer brands to empower professionals and business owners to build & relaunch their personal brands.

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