Networking is a necessary evil that many people love to hate. Meeting people at networking events can feel forced and awkward for some, and others just don’t know where else to turn to make connections with people in their industry.
One hobby that I picked up in college that helped me build relationships is doing informational interviews. As a public relations major eager to break into the industry, I often invited people to grab a cup of coffee at Starbucks so I could pick their brain and learn more about their experience in PR. This tactic helped me cultivate relationships with some of the movers and shakers in my field, and hone in on what I wanted from my career.
Here are a few tips to help you set up informational interviews over coffee:
- Invite your guest
For the most part, people love to talk about themselves and are more than happy to share their experience and expertise. Don’t let their insight go unused! If there is someone in your industry that you admire, ask if they have 20 minutes to spare. If you don’t have someone in mind, use your current network or LinkedIn to find people to learn from.
Below is an example of how to word the ask:
“Hi xxx — I see that you have a lot of great experience in the xx field. I am aspiring to break into the industry, and I’d love to learn more about your journey as I navigate my path. Please let me know if you have 20 minutes to grab coffee sometime soon. Thanks!”
Easy-peezy. Keep it short, friendly and to the point. And people are just as busy as you are, so adding that the coffee chat will be quick is a nice touch to show that you are respectful of their time.
- Be prepared
After confirming a time and location with your guest, be prepared. Search for them online and check out their social media profiles to get a better idea of their work, and personal and professional interests. The more you know about them ahead of time, the better the informational interview will be because you can skip a lot of the basic questions and dive into the meat! Make the block of time you’ve asked for work for you!
Another way to be prepared for your informational interview is to have a list of questions ready. It’s best to do this after you’ve researched the guest so the information you find can shape the questions. Here are a few to consider asking:
- What’s been the biggest challenge working in the xx industry?
- Is there anything you wish you would have known before you started working?
- As a newbie in the field, what do you recommend me doing to get more experience and make connections?
- Treat this like a real interview
Be on time… actually get there early so you can get settled before your guest arrive. You should also dress nice – you don’t necessarily have to have on business attire but look presentable to make a good impression. Smile, make eye contact and be friendly and engaged.
- Capture the moment
Decide how you’re going to capture the advice and insight that your guest will give. Bring a notepad and pen if you’re more of a writer, or ask if they are comfortable with you recording if you want to playback the audio.
- Remember to be human
Although you may be seeking advice about a certain topic, don’t forget to appeal to our human nature and ask about their personal life. Whenever I do an informational interview (which I still do now even though I’m in the working in my industry), I always start off asking how my guest is or what they did over the weekend. It’s a simple question that shows that you’re interested in getting to know them as a person – not just what information they can share with you.
- Follow up
Email the guests thanking them for their time at least 48 hours after the coffee date. Share one of the key takeaways from the conversation and how you’re going to apply it to your career. Not only does this show that you appreciate them taking the time out of their busy schedule to help you, but also that you’re serious about your career and building your network.
Have you done an informational interview before? How have you been successful in making connections?