You’ve decided to switch up your career and go from driving a tank to working in marketing. You’ve watched all seven seasons of Mad Men and you’re fairly certain you have the next big ad campaign for Pepsi all worked out. But you’re not quite sure how to go from tank driver to marketing superstar. Clearly, it’s time to set up some informational interviews.
Follow the steps below and before you know it, you’ll be talking to experienced professionals about how you can set yourself up for success as you transition into your new career.
Step 1: Find the Right Position
When you’re looking for a professional to interview, you should consider two things: the position they hold and where they work. The position is important because you need to find someone with experience, but not someone who is so senior in the company s/he won’t have time to talk to you. When you’re looking at positions, aim for the middle. For example, a team leader or someone who has five or more years of experience with the company.
As for the company, you’ll want to select a company that lines-up with your personal values. For example, it would probably be a waste of time to interview someone working at a major cigarette company if you detest smoking. Find a company whose company culture you relate to and then find the corresponding position for your career field.
Step 2: Get a Name
Once you have an idea of where you want to interview, you need to pin down a name. If you have a connection through friends or family, now is the time to use it. It’s much easier to get your foot in the door if you have someone who can personally introduce you to an expert.
If you don’t have a personal connection, consider using social networking sites or look at the company’s website to figure out who you need to contact. If you’re still coming up empty, call the company and ask to speak with the department’s administrative assistant. Not only do they have all of the contact information you’ll need, but they may also tell you who is most likely to help you.
Finally, don’t forget to make the most out of networking events and job fairs. If you happen to meet someone in your desired field, you can set up a future interview on the spot. Or if you’re speaking with a job recruiter, you can always ask for an introduction to someone in another department.
Step 3: Ask for the Interview
Asking a stranger for a favor may feel uncomfortable, but as long as you keep it professional you shouldn’t worry about asking for an interview. The easiest way to ask is to send an email that clearly states your request and asks the recipient for their help. According to The Muse, when you ask for an interview you should keep a few things in mind.
- Have a clear message. Don’t beat around the bush when making your request. If the receiver isn’t clear about what you want, they likely won’t respond. Keep it short and to the point. For example, “I’d like to meet for coffee and get your perspective on what it’s like working for your company.”
- Ask for assistance. People like to help others, plain and simple. Be sure to include a phrase like, “I’d really love your help” or “Any help you can offer would be appreciated” somewhere in your message.
- Add a personal touch. This is where you throw in any mutual friends you may have, that you share the same alma mater or that you really admire the work they did on a certain project. Making it more personalized increases your chances that they’ll say yes to an interview.
- Be considerate. These are busy professionals and they probably won’t agree to an open-ended interview that could take up too much of their time. Let them know you respect their time by including a phrase like, “I know your time is valuable so even 15 -20 minutes would be appreciated.”
- Don’t bring up your job hunt. That’s a great way to have your email forwarded to the human resources department. Instead, make it clear that you’re interested in the field and would like to learn more.
Step 4: Always Follow Up
If you don’t hear back from the expert after a week, send a follow-up email to see if they got your original request. If you don’t hear from them after your follow-up email, it’s possible they aren’t interested in doing an interview. You could always leave a voicemail or send another email, but you do run the risk of becoming an annoyance. If you feel like you’re pushing your luck, cut your losses and move on. This is where it pays to send out several requests for interviews. If one doesn’t work out, you still have another lead.
Setting up an informational interview can take time and persistence, but the pay-off is well worth the effort. You’ll have an opportunity to sit down with an expert in your desired field and get their unfiltered advice and opinions. So find a professional you admire, send out a request and nail down an interview. You’ll be one more step ahead in the employment game.