Informational Interviews: What They Are, Why They're Important & How To Rock Yours

This article has been syndicated from Macarons & Mascara​, an InfluenceHer Collective Member. Read the full post here.

I study journalism and one of my biggest career dreams is to work for the biggest digital media sites out there (Well, hello there, BuzzFeed and INSIDER). The thing is, competition is tough, and I can basically get in line behind all the other twenty-somethings graduating in a year who also want to work for the biggest digital media sites out there. While experience is extremely important, you’ll gain an advantage by getting to know some of the people who work in the industry you want to break into, and what better way to do this than to ask for an informational interview?

Honestly, I had never even heard of the term “informational interview” until this summer. I was lucky enough to have been able to score one recently with a writer I was introduced to at Her Conference, and I learned so much from her! It was such a great experience that I wanted to share it with you and give you tips for meeting your favorite writers and editors. So let’s get right into the world of informational interviews.

First thing’s first: What exactly are “informational interviews”?

“Informational interview” is a super professional term for a coffee meeting between you and your favorite writer, editor or freelancer from whom you receive career and industry advice. I prefer to call them coffee dates, but the meetings don’t even have to involve coffee; if you both love tea, it could be a tea date, or if you’re feeling bold, you might invite him or her to a pub for drinks (only do this after you get the job you want to say thanks for the advice!)

The editorial assistant I met with was a panelist at the conference attended, and she made some points that I really wanted to learn more about. Luckily, she is friends with a co-worker of mine, and he was able to give me her email address, so when I messaged her for a meeting, she agreed! The tips she gave me were fantastic, and will definitely help me become a stronger writer for future sites I write for.

No, you don’t have to bring your resume and cover letter because this is NOT a job interview. As a matter of fact, you’ll be the one asking questions, so make sure you’ve got good ones. Don’t ask anything that you can easily Google the answer to. If you’re nervous, start off by asking your “interviewee” how they got to their current position, and just go with your natural curiosity.

How do you organize an informational interview? 

Like I said, I organized my first meeting through a co-worker giving me contact information and telling the editorial assistant to expect my message. Using your connections is one way to go about setting up a coffee date with someone you’d really love advice from, so don’t be afraid to reach out and ask! Your colleagues and bosses were in your position at one time, so I’d imagine they’d love to help you in any way that they can. You might have to do some LinkedIn research to find any of your co-workers’ connections who have had jobs at any of the places you want to work at. When you find someone, see if your colleague can message their connection to expect your email. This is way better than just having them give you an email and then keeping your fingers crossed that it’ll get a response.

Another way of getting an informational interview is the infamous cold email (another phrase I hadn’t heard of until recently). Basically, you look someone up, find their email address, and you just go for it! You usually won’t have any common connections, which can make cold emails seem intimidating at first, but honestly, what’s the worst that can happen—they might say they’re too busy, or they might ignore you. Either way, it doesn’t cost you anything to try.

Lastly, you may meet some influential people in your desired industry at networking events. But this requires that you actually look for and attend networking events, meet someone you’d love advice from, and actually get their contact info so you can email them. It can be difficult because literally everyone and their mother will likely want to get in two minutes with an Editor or Social Media Director, but if you need tips, I’ve got a post all about How To Survive Networking Events. Once you get their email, message them as soon as you can and ask for a meeting. But no matter which method you choose to organize a meeting, you have to make sure that editor, writer, or social media manager actually says yes…

Get them to say yes: how do you give them a reason to meet you?

“Hi, so-and-so! My name is Jasmin and I’m a student and writer at XYZ. I love your work on ABC Magazine, and it’s my dream to work there. I would love to meet you for coffee in the city when you’re free.” 

That’s a pretty decent example of what you should NOT send to someone you want to meet for coffee! Why should this person care enough to meet you for a couple of iced chai lattes in a noisy, packed coffee shop in Manhattan instead of leaving the office to go home, eat a fancy steak dinner, and dip their toes in a warm bubble bath? Simply put, just saying you love their work and want to meet them isn’t enough.

Yes, it’s a good idea to say that you enjoy reading their work (as long as that’s actually the case!) but they don’t want to attend a coffee meeting where they’re being fangirled over because that’s just a waste of their time. Try to be as specific as possible about why you’d like to meet with them. Did they mention something specific in a particular article that you’d like to hear more about? Did they recently receive a promotion and you want to know more about how they got their position? Great, say that! This will help them prepare what to talk about so they help make the most of your time together, and having a focused topic of conversation will help you think of focused questions to ask. This is called giving them a reason to meet you. And, without this handy tool under your belt, be prepared to receive an “I’m too busy” or be ignored altogether.

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