Requesting to connect for an informational interview

I was talking to a friend yesterday about his relatively new Software Engineering job. He’s been with his current company for a few months now but was reviewing with me how the work life balance was better, there was less pressure and micro-management than at his past company, there’s a hybrid schedule to work remotely parts of the week, etc. He changed gears, though, by saying “I keep getting these requests on LinkedIn to chat with people who are applying to my company. What am I supposed to say to them? I can’t help them get hired.” Like a good career counselor, I told him they were likely just trying to gain information from an insider about the job or company and even if he didn’t have particular connections, his insight into the role could be helpful. I was slightly triggered by his response: “Well if they’re applying for the job, I would hope they know what it is.” Just seconds before, he was sharing with me all these new discoveries he was making about his new company. Still, he dismissed the idea that he had anything valuable to share that a candidate shouldn’t already know.

I initially questioned why this was his initial reaction. Was he being shortsighted? Thoughtless to others? Modest of his value? Maybe it’s all of the above, but one thing was clear: he wasn’t feeling how he could be of help or why he should follow-up. And maybe that’s because the requests he received weren’t articulating that value or as approachable as they could have been. With that in mind, let’s highlight some effective things to include in a request to network.

Explain How You Found Their Info

This could be as simple as stating “I found you on LinkedIn” or could capitalize on a bigger picture. For example, maybe a friend interned at the company last summer and spoke highly of their time working with the person. Or maybe you have something in common like you both were Philosophy majors which stood out.

Call To Action

The whole point of you reaching out is to hopefully have a conversation with this person. Rather than asking for something as formal sounding as an informational interview or an opportunity to network, just ask for a chance to chat, or a brief meeting to discuss their job.

Bestow a Brief Background

Give a basic introduction of who you are and what your goals or interests are. Try to be as approachable as possible so keep it brief and maybe don’t over alliterate and use words like “bestow.” This is a chance to show them your genuine interest in what they do, make them feel like they have something valuable to share, and feel like they can have a casual conversation with you. Don’t worry about impressing them here, but instead just give them a taste of where you’re coming from.

Be Flexible and Organized

It can be helpful to provide some general times you’re available, but more than anything don’t try to make it seem like you’re difficult to schedule with by giving them tight windows or deadlines. Something like “I’m usually available on Tuesdays and Thursdays after 3PM” is a good middle ground, for example. You can also take the time to highlight some of the types of questions you have. This will allow the person to start thinking through and seeing their own value for the conversation. “As a huge reader, I’d love to hear about your transition from working at an ad agency to your new role at a major publishing company.”

All-in-all this should be an approachable request that is just 2-3 short paragraphs that showcase how this conversation can be valuable and why you’re excited to talk to them.

When done right, requesting to connect with someone for an informational interview can be flattering and exciting to the person you’re interested in speaking with. There’s a good chance they networked when they were an undergrad and maybe they see this as a chance to give back. The whole experience is very high reward, low risk. Worst case scenario, you reach out to my friend who might just ignore you.

For more information on networking, here are some key resources:

  1. Guide to Informational Interviewing
  2. Cultivating Meaningful Connections
  3. Our Community on Learning How to… Make Connections and Network
By Natty Leach
Natty Leach Senior Associate Director, Wharton Undergrad / Co-host, CS Radio