If you’re looking for a job, odds are you’ve heard you should set up some informational interviews. (Refresher: They’re the coffee meetings you go on with networking contacts to get an insider perspective on their industry or role.)
You know these conversations are a great way to get your foot in the door. They can lead to someone passing your name (or resume) on, and they’re also a place to hear about unadvertised positions.
But despite knowing they can be a game changer, you haven’t set any up. In fact, you’re avoiding them. Sound familiar? Here are four common things people overthink when it comes to informational interviews, plus how to get past each one:
1. “I’m Not Ready Yet”
You’ve heard that you should treat every professional meeting like an interview when you're job hunting. And so, before you reach out to any of your contacts, you plan to be as prepared as you would be when meeting with a hiring manager.
However, if you connect with others simply to impress them after you’ve applied for a role, you’re missing out on the “informational” part of the process. This is your chance to hear firsthand about everything from company culture to what traits helped someone be successful.
By setting the meeting earlier in the process, you’ll get additional information on what to highlight in your application, and you could get much more. Your perspective on the position or company may shift. You may find that the other person offers to pass your resume along. And to boot, having genuine questions will lead to a more interesting conversation.
So, instead of delaying these meetings because you know everything, start seeing them as a chance to learn along the way.
2. “I’m Not Connected Enough”
Ironically, those who’d benefit most from informational interviews often feel like they don’t know anyone worth setting them up with. (I’m looking at you, new grads and career changers.)
You may think these meetings only make sense for people whose network already includes those in their dream role or industry. After all, they can shoot that person an email and ask them to meet for coffee. But if everyone you know is in your old sector, or you haven’t really started building out your list of contacts yet, who will you ask?
In fact, informational interviews are the perfect way to connect with these people for the first time. Look on LinkedIn for fellow alumni who have your dream job. See if you share any mutual contacts with someone in your new field of interest. Then ask if they can answer a couple of your questions. (Here’s a template to do that.)
Presto: You’ll be setting up meetings that’ll give you the insights you’ve been looking for, and growing your network at the same time.
3. “I’m Not Good at Networking”
A common fear people who dread networking have is that an informational interview will be too awkward to be worthwhile. They imagine lots of uncomfortable pauses and decide it’s better not reach out in the first place.
And I’ll be honest, if you’re uncomfortable talking with new people, the initial small talk may very well be a little strained.
But, here’s the thing: These aren’t “friend dates.” They’re conversations with a purpose. You asked a specific person to meet with you so you can ask them questions about their work.
So, don’t feel like you have to spend the whole time chatting. Yes, it’s always nice to start with “How are you?” or “How’s your day going?” but then you can jump into your (prepared!) list of questions. You can even say, “I want to be respectful of your time, so I’d love to dive right into a few questions I have about…”
By keeping the conversation focused, you’ll be able to combat nerves and get the information you’re seeking.
4. “I’m Going to Regret It”
Some people fear saying the wrong thing. But others fear hearing the wrong thing.
Maybe changing careers was a tough decision, but you’re really excited about this new step. Or maybe you had to give yourself multiple pep talks before applying to your dream company.
And you know that, as with anything else, people can get into a rut and complain about the topic at hand (in this case their work). So, you’ve put off setting up informational interviews, because you don’t want to be talked out of something you’re really hopeful about.
Keep this in mind: If someone really disliked their job, I doubt they’d say yes to meeting up and answering every question you had about it. While I can’t promise that nothing you hear will give you second thoughts (maybe they’ll sing the merits of a competitive environment, but that’s not what you’re looking for), I can say that most often people who make time to discuss their work find it energizing.
Looking for a new job takes courage. Setting up an informational interview isn’t going to be the first (or last) thing you feel nervous about. But, every time you work to overcome your fears, you’ll get that much closer to your dream job—and that’s worth it.