How to Ask for an Informational Interview

Recently I asked you to tell me about your job search dilemmas and wow! I received a wave of responses. Here is the next installment. Ask your question to see it responded to here.

Their Question:

I have applied to countless ICT4D jobs via the normal online CV submission route but have heard (and can speak anecdotally to the fact) that there is a 4% response rate – so really the only way to get hired is to go through my network.

The challenge: there is a thin line between asking for help and being overbearing even when trying to use my network.

Case in point, I recently asked to meet with someone fairly high up in an organization I would like to work with, and when I let her know I was interested in working there she never responded. It was probably not the best experience for either of us.

My Response:

There is certainly an art to asking for an informational interview and it starts with thinking of it as the beginning of a relationship, not a transaction. You should be genuinely interested in their work and career to better understand your own goals, and path to reach them.

Never, ever ask about working at their organization, which can feel transactional and often leads to them sending you to HR or the company website, if they respond at all.

Here is an example email that you can use to secure an informational interview:

Dear Susan,
I was speaking with Tim Smith the other day about mHealth programs in Vietnam, and he said you were an expert on it and that I should talk to you about my interest in the field. I’m about to graduate with an MPH and I’ve worked for a few years as a project manager with the Red Cross in Washington, DC, but I’m considering focusing on mHealth in Southeast Asia. I’d love to know about your career path, how you came to role with Medic Mobile, and where you see the future of mHealth in the region. Would you have time for a coffee or a call next week?

Note that in the opening sentence I showed that I spoke with someone they knew, who recommended we talk. This introduces a shared connection, validates my inquiry, and creates a social obligation to meet – she wouldn’t want to disappoint Tim. Then I gave my bona fides, and shared why I am looking to her for advice. I finish with a request for a quick meeting.

No where do I ask about roles with her company, even if it is my dream employer. My goal is to learn from her and to introduce her to my dreams, so that one day, when she’s in a meeting and her colleagues announce they need a mHealth manager in Vietnam, she remembers me and recommends that they interview me.

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