In your job search, as in most things, more information is better than less. If you’re looking to break into a new filed or industry, or thinking of changing careers, or looking for the same kind of work you did before, but you’re in a new market, one of the best tools in your toolkit is going to be the informational interview. However, since an informational interview is basically meeting a stranger and asking them some questions, unless you’re a certain kind of person, this is not going to be easy for you. Here’s a little advice to help you get through it.

Don’t be afraid to ask.

The worst thing that’s going to happen is that they say no. They might also give you a qualified no: “Not right now, but call me in a couple weeks.” They’re more likely to say yes. Know why? People like feeling like experts. Asking someone for information and advice is inherently flattering, and most people will respond to it. So don’t worry that you’re imposing. If they can’t help, then they can’t help, but they’ll likely be glad you asked.

Do your research.

You need to find out who to ask, and what kind of information you’re going to need. Remember Rumsfeld’s “known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns”? Your task is to maximise the first and minimise the last. That means identifying the ones in the middle. Once you know what you need to know, you can start preparing: identifying potential sources of information, and identifying the information you’ll get out of them.

Prepare questions.

Get the information you know you’ll need. You’re going in with a notebook or something, right? To take notes? Use the notebook to write out some questions. You don’t need to stick to the script exactly; follow the conversation. But you should have some questions handy to start or to restart the conversation.

Keep the meeting short.

As much as people like to be asked for help, this person probably has a job to do. You should let them do it. Keep your intro brief, keep your questions concise, and keep an eye on the clock. If you asked for 15 minutes, keep it to 15. To drag the meeting out is disrespectful. If the person you’re interviewing wants to keep going, then by all means, stick around. If you’re having a good time, then stay if you can. How great would it be to ask for an information interview and end up with a mentor?

Follow up.

Send a note, an email, a LinkedIn message, or something, and say thank you. They did you a favour, after all. Keep in touch. This person helped you along your career path, and they’re probably interested in how it’s going. Keep them abreast.

Do it again.

The only way to get better at information interviews is to practice. Find another person, call them, and repeat the process. Keep working, and at some point this’ll get easier.

Information interviews are a great way to gather the info you need and to build your network. Give it a go. If you need help with some strategies, there’s lots more information online, and services that can help, like WIL. See you soon.