If there is a career that interests you, find someone who does that and request an informational interview. Somehow, someway, that person got there and meeting with them provides you with an opportunity to ask how they got there and the lessons learned along the way.

Informational interviews at the best secret weapon I know of in job-hunting. I didn’t know what informational interviews were until I heard about them in college and I’m still surprised by how many people aren’t aware of them.

What is an informational interview? An informational interview is a meeting where you sit down with a person whose career you’re interested in. You can find these people by searching your college’s alumni (these folks are typically VERY enthusiastic about helping a young pro) on Facebook or LinkedIn, or talking with friends and family and seeing if anyone knows of anyone in the career you’re seeking. You request the meeting and you lead the conversation. It is a service to you, so you go to where they are, or make the arrangements for a meeting over the phone or via skype.There is no job opening or opportunity at stake and you shouldn’t even hint at one unless the professional you’re meeting with brings it up.

Why should you do informational interviews? Informational interviews will answer your questions. Maybe you think you’d like to be a social worker or a chef, but after talking with someone who’s done that for 10 years, you realize it probably wouldn’t be a good fit for you. It is also common to dream about places you’d like to work. I speak for myself in thinking that working for a certain company or organization would be a dream, but after meeting with someone who works there, my thoughts might be confirmed or squashed. In addition to these valuable lessons, you’ll be building your professional network, which is gold, especially in this economy.

Make a list of people you’re interested in meeting with and their contact information. Send out an email to each person requesting a meeting. Here’s a sample:

Dear Mr. Smith,

I am writing to request an information interview. I am a recent graduate from the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication with a degree in journalism and public relations. I most recently worked for (company) as (position) where I (your responsibilities). I was referred to you by (the person’s name).

I have a passion for (industry) and would appreciate learning from your experience.

I’ve attached my résumé for your reference. Also, here is the link to my online portfolio: (online portfolio link such as VisualCV).

Thank you for your time and thoughtful consideration. I look forward to hearing from you!

Best regards,

At the bottom of this email after your name, include your email signature.

Here’s mine:
Kristina Rhodes
Twitter: @krhodey
Blog: https://communicationrhodes.wordpress.com/
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/kristina-rhodes/b/189/4
Online Portfolio: http://www.visualcv.com/krhodes

If you don’t hear back in 3-5 business days, it’s OK to send a follow-up. Something like:

Dear Mr. Smith,

Just checking in regarding my request for an informational interview. Thank you.

Best regards,

If you still don’t hear back, let it go. In my experience, most people are very willing to help students and young professionals, especially if you are polite and respectful.

Once you hear back you’ll need to start preparing. Wondering what to ask on an informational interview? Stay tuned for Wednesday’s post.