Informational interviews

Over the years, I’ve received a lot of requests from students and recent grads for job shadowing. And, I always counteroffer with an informational interview. 

Now that we’re entering Month 10 of COVID-19 and the new norm of work-from-home, informational interviews are more important than ever. 

Here’s the thing …

Sleeping dog

There are many moments of my job that are not exciting to watch. I might spend my entire morning responding to emails, proofreading and editing, researching media and pulling clips. My afternoons are often dominated by Zoom meetings and phone calls, as well as writing statements, press releases, social media content and proposals. 

Watching me work would likely be incredibly boring for anyone (just ask my dog, Kimber!). 

Here’s why you should ask for an informational interview:

An informational interview gives you the opportunity to learn about a professional’s career journey and their day-to-day responsibilities. It gives you the opportunity to learn about industries, workplace cultures and the skills you’ll need to succeed. 

Some professionals might only be able to dedicate 15-20 minutes of their time, while others might give the opportunity to pick their brain for a full hour. 

Informational interviews are usually most appropriate for students and young professionals. However, if you have an established relationship with a person, you can still reach out for advice. Even 10 years into my career, I still reach out to some of my mentors for career advice and insights (shout out to Anne and Kasey!). 

How to ask for an informational interview:

Be sure to personalize your message with a greeting and possibly a bit about how you know the person (“I’ve been reading your blog,” for example).

Here are a few ways to ask for an informational interview within your email message:

  • “I’m graduating in 2021 and I wanted to ask you for feedback on my resume and skill development. Do you have time for a phone call or Zoom in the next few weeks?”
  • “I recently heard you speak in my class and I’d love to learn more about how you’ve built your career in the healthcare industry. Would you be available for a quick call this week?”
  • “We met at a networking event before COVID-19 and I really enjoyed talking to you about public relations. I would love to talk to you to learn more about what it’s like to work in the financial services industry as a PR pro. If you have time, I’d also like to have your feedback on my resume.”
  • “I’m really interested in learning more about your professional experience working for General Motors. Would you have an hour available to chat on the phone, Skype or meet in person sometime this month?”
  • “It was great running into you today. Could we do a Zoom soon? I have a few career-related questions and I would love your input about how to position myself for a job in the nonprofit industry.”
  • “I’ve always wondered what it’s like to work at a PR agency. Would you be willing to talk to me about your experiences and the skills I would need to develop to build a career like yours?”

You’ll notice that I don’t even call out the meeting as an “informational interview.” Instead, I specify what kind of advice I’m seeking.

Be sure to give the person a few general times you have available. For example, you could say, “I’m typically available Monday and Wednesday mornings, as well as Tuesdays and Thursdays after 3 p.m.”

It might take several days for the professional to respond to your request. Follow up after a week has passed if you haven’t heard back. Additionally, don’t assume the professional can meet tomorrow or even that week. Often, people schedule their meetings weeks or sometimes a month or two in advance.

How to prepare for an informational interview:

Arrive to the video/phone call on time with a notepad and several good questions. It might be helpful to review the person’s LinkedIn page beforehand to better understand their personal career journey. 

You should allow the conversation to flow naturally, using your questions to ensure there isn’t awkward silence.

Here are a few questions to consider: 

  1. How did you get into this industry? 
  2. What does your day-to-day look like? 
  3. What advice do you have for building a career in this field and/or industry? 
  4. How can entry-level professionals make themselves stand out?
  5. What skills do you need to thrive in your job?
  6. What’s the hardest part about your job? 
  7. What do you look for in internship and/or job applications? 
  8. What mistakes do you see jobseekers making when they apply for jobs at your company? 
  9. What do you wish you’d known when you started your career? 
  10. Do you have any other professionals you could connect me to for me to learn more about the industry? 

After the informational interview:

Afterward, be sure to send a thank you note. Whether it’s hand-written or an email, it’s important to show gratitude for the professional’s willingness to take time out of their busy day to give you advice and insights about their career. 

It’s also important to follow through on any commitments you made. If the person asks you to send them your resume, be sure to send it within a day or two. If they offer to connect you to others, be sure to respond to the introduction as quickly as possible. 

I also love it when students and young professionals keep me updated on their journey, emailing me to tell me about how my advice helped them nab an interview or a new job. 

What are your tips for students and young professionals pursuing informational interviews?

Melanie Spring - Venturesome Podcast

Personal Branding & Storytelling with Melanie Spring, the Approachable Bad Ass

Melanie SpringMelanie Spring branded herself as the “approachable bad ass” following a survey she sent to hundreds of connections that sought feedback on how they perceived her.

Melanie is an internationally renowned keynote speaker and coach who helps people with public speaking, pitching and personal brand development

In this episode, I talked to Melanie about using feedback from others to build and strengthen your personal brand and how to tell your own story.  

Unforgettably fearless

Inspired by Melanie’s story, I asked my LinkedIn connections, Facebook friends and Twitter followers to describe me in one to five words via SurveyMonkey.

Words that were repeatedly used to describe me were:

  • Ambitious
  • Intelligent
  • Driven
  • Confident
  • Creative
  • Fearless
  • Tenacious
  • Mentor  


Some words related to roles I play on a team or in a group (advocate, leader, learner, mentor, risk-taker). Others described my personality traits (assertive, dedicated, inquisitive, loyal, opinionated, no-nonsense, outgoing, passionate, talkative, caring, compassionate). 

Many also described my work- and mentorship-styles (efficient, encouraging, goals, hard-working, innovative, organized, results, results, strategic) and how I use my voice or take action (authentic, bold, brave, fierce/fiery). The final bucket related to my mind and degrees (educated, smart, talented). 

My favorite word someone used to describe me: Unforgettable.

I think if I were to use these results to develop my own brand like Melanie, maybe I’d describe myself as unforgettably fearless. I strive to be fiercely brave, ambitious and curious. 

This was a fun exercise and one I definitely recommend. I used Survey Monkey and asked only: “What two to five words describe Rachel Esterline Perkins?” I shared it on social media a few times and tallied the words. I used to visualize them together. If you decide to try this, I’d love to hear about what you learn! 

 “You’re welcome”

In this episode, Melanie talks about changing your attitude when you walk into the room to be more confident and unapologetically you. She also shares perspectives for embracing who you are if you feel like you’re “too much” or “not enough.” (This is for all of us who’ve been told we’re too bossy, too ambitious, etc.). And if you’re feeling awkward in this WFH world, check out her free training “ How to: Not Be Weird on Zoom.” 

The Smile File

Melanie encourages listeners to to capture their career success stories to use later on in interviews or when asking for a raise. I like to call this the “Smile File.” This was something my friend, Brooke, shared with me years ago and it’s where I save screenshots of emails congratulating on a job well done, positive feedback from clients or even sweet notes from former students. 

Everything you want is on the other side of no

Melanie talked about manifesting. But it’s not magic. She is about being clear and intentional about what you want, making a plan and then working toward that goal every single day. Melanie is currently offering her “Manifest Your Life” program for $20. 

Free resources for personal branding

I’m putting together some free resources on personal branding and storytelling. Sign up to be the first to receive the free workbook

Listen to Venturesome for the full conversation 

And because this is a new podcast, please take a moment to leave a review after the episode if you enjoyed this episode about your career in your twenties. 

If you just joined us, listen to our first two episodes Gone Girl: Questions To Ask Before Leaving Your Job with Beth Bryce of Daring Circle Ranch and The Rocket Years with Elizabeth Segran

I also want to personally thank Jacqueline, a listener who shared her feedback and inspired me to finally edit this episode. I was in a bit of a rut and knowing that there was someone out there who wanted to hear more helped motivate me to get this episode out. Thank you, Jacqueline!