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

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while (welcome back! :D) you probably already know that 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 have 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 HerConference, 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.

P.S., while you don’t have to study journalism and media to have an informational interview, please note that this post will focus on informational interviews from the perspective of a journalism major (a.k.a. me), so tailor any examples here to better suit your field of study. 🙂 

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.

But why are informational interviews so important???

I know, I know, I’ve been going on and on about the do’s and don’ts of informational interviews, and I didn’t even mention how extremely useful they are! Let me start off with the most obvious benefit to informational interviews: making new connections! By the end of the meeting, you should walk away with a new professional email, and, if you’re lucky, a cell phone number. But I always like to say that the connections you make are only meaningful if you actually use them! Don’t just tuck this well-earned email address into the back pocket of your favorite skinny jeans and forget all about it; shoot them an email or text the following day to thank them for their time. Send them a card during the holidays, and email them for their birthday. Don’t reach out to them only when you’re about to apply for a position. If you keep in touch regularly, they would certainly keep you in mind for internships, full-time positions, and anything else their company is working on.

Another reason why you should ask for an informational interview is because you get the chance to access insider information on your favorite company or website. I mean, hell-o, you get to sit in front of experts in the field and have their full, undivided attention to ask them any career-related question you want the answers to. Not only that, but you also get to hear about what steps this person took to get where they are now. IN. FULL. DETAIL. I love hearing other peoples’ stories because they’re always so encouraging, and give me great ideas on what my next move should be. Also, don’t forget to talk about the small stuff and ask your interviewee about themselves.

Those were the obvious reasons why informational interviews are so important, but here’s one that most people forget about even though it’s probably the most important: You will ALWAYS learn something. Even if you thought the conversation was so boring you were tearing up from all the yawns you were holding back, you will definitely be able to take something valuable away from the experience. It could be a clue as to what your next steps should be, or where you should look for your next internship, so pay attention!

So, how do you rock this meeting???

1. Dress nicely. 

You don’t have to dress like you’re attending a business meeting, but you also shouldn’t bust into the cafe wearing short shorts and a crop top. Aim to just look put-together. For my meeting, I wore a dress and flats because it helped me avoid overthinking my outfit. It helps to think about what you would wear to your internship (MORE: 6 Super Cute Pairs Of Shoes You Need For Your Summer Internship)

2. Arrive early.

Something my broadcast professor always told the class was: If you’re on time, you’re late. Plan ahead so that you arrive at the cafe or meeting place with enough time to get yourself settled in before the person you’re meeting arrives. Try to have the drinks ready when he or she arrives. Pro tip: let them pick the cafe and ask them what their favorite thing to get from the menu is.

3. Come prepared with at least 4-5 questions.

One of my editors told us interns a story about the worst coffee meeting experience she’s ever been invited to. Long story short, the girl who asked her to the meeting didn’t have any questions ready and basically just expected her to sit down and start talking. Needless to say, that was a complete waste of her (the editor’s) valuable time, and this is probably the WORST thing you could do at an informational interview. You should go with your natural curiosity during the meeting, but also prepare some questions so at the very least, you have something to start with, something to ask if you sense a lull in the conversation, and something thought-provoking to end with.

4. Ask what they suggest you do moving forward.

Always try to ask how the advice can be applied to you. Say something like, “what kind of experience do you think I should try to add to my resume in the near future?” (P.S., check out my Guide To Resume-Writing and my post on How To Join Clubs To Boost Your Resume!) This shows that you care about staying active and gaining as much industry experience as possible. Who knows, they might even answer with a swift, “you should consider applying to this recently opened position at my company.” *wink, wink*

5. Don’t whip out your resume.

Be aware that some professionals actually really enjoy sitting down to meet with curious college students and young graduates, so don’t ruin the fun by pulling out your resume. You aren’t there to interview for potential openings at the company, and the person you’re meeting certainly isn’t prepared to interview you. If anything, this could annoy them, and they may not want to keep in touch with you. If you’re particularly eager to share your resume, ask if you could email them a copy to get their thoughts on how to properly leverage your experience.

6. Be yourself and have fun! 

Informational interviews are seriously fun and exciting because you never know what you’ll find out, and you might really click with the person you’re meeting. Pretend you’re meeting up with an old friend if you’re nervous. Just relax and enjoy the experience!

So yeah, there you go! I know this isn’t my usual post style but I was practically bouncing off the walls because I was so excited to talk about how informational interviews can be such a worthwhile experience. I hope these tips help you feel confident when you ask for an informational interview in the future!

Have you ever been on an informational coffee date? What are your tips?