Informational interviews provide the perfect opportunity to pick the brain of someone you admire, expand your network—and make a good impression on someone who just might hire you in the future. (Read: all you summer interns should consider scheduling at least one before your internship ends.)
If you’re new to informational interviewing, however, it can be hard to tell whether or not you’re really putting your best foot forward. So with the help of Hallie Crawford, certified career coach and founder of HallieCrawford.com, and Maggie Mistal, certified career consultant and executive coach at MMM Career Consulting, we’ve put together the ultimate guide to proper informational interview etiquette.
Setting up an informational interview can be totally intimidating. Chances are you’re trying to chat with someone whose career path you really admire, and it’s easy to imagine a worst-case scenario in which you make a major typo in your email/annoy your potential interviewee/get rejected.
To make the request a little easier on yourself, both Crawford and Mistal suggest reaching out to a “warm” contact. A warm contact is anyone that you have some sort of distant connection to, such as friend of a friend, an alum from your college, or someone you previously connected with on any social media platform—including Levo.com. “Contact people you know first, then branch out beyond that and find people to talk to through friends, family, and former co-workers, as well as through Linkedin or your alumni association,” Crawford says.
Mistal also stresses the importance of eliminating any “I”s from your email request. You want to let your potential interviewee know specifically why she is the right person for you to talk to—not why you would benefit from talking to her. “It’s like if you met somebody at a networking event and they didn’t even say, ‘Hi, what’s your name?’ They just started launching into who they are,” Mistal says. “You’d think, ‘This is weird.’ So what I always tell people is you’ve got to focus on the person you’re talking to. It’s got to be about them first.”
Congratulations! Your informational interviewee has accepted your request. Now you’ve got to propose a location for the meeting, which can be tough when the possibilities are seemingly endless. Do you meet at your interviewee’s office? A cute coffee shop? The lunch spot down the street? Or would everyone be better off if the convo went down over the phone?
Finding the right answer isn’t hard—just present the options to your interviewee and let her choose what she finds most convenient. “Offering a meal or coffee is nice because you’re giving something in return to them for their time,” Crawford says. “But if they prefer in their office or over the phone, go with what they are comfortable with.”
And if you’ll be meeting outside the office? Be sure to bring your wallet. “If you’re going to have a lunch conversation, you should expect to pay,” Mistal says. Do keep in mind that if the person you’re meeting will mostly likely force your hand to let them pay, but simply offering will put you in their good graces.
If you don’t do anything else before meeting up with your interviewee, you absolutely must do some research. As Mistal says, so much information is available to you via a quick Google search, and that info can help you target your questions to the specific areas of your interviewee’s career that you really want to know about—and make you look better to her.
“From an etiquette standpoint, I think it makes a very positive impression when you’ve done a bit of homework on this person. Look at their LinkedIn profile, perhaps read some of their tweets, or see if they’ve blogged anything,” Mistal says. “I think when you do your homework on a person and understand a bit more about them, it just shows that you’re a caring, genuine individual.”
The key to looking your best during an informational interview, believe it or not, is blending in. “You want to match the kind of environment that your informational interview is going to be taking place in,” Mistal says. “With that said, make sure that you look professional no matter what the environment is.”
When in doubt, however, it’s always better to overdress than to underdress. “Err on the side of more formal and professional than too casual,” Crawford says. “This person, or someone they know, could end up offering you a job so you need to make a very positive impression on them just like you want to for anyone else who might hire you.”
During the interview, Crawford recommends asking your interviewee how you can help her—and then following through after the interview. “Even if you aren’t sure you have anything to offer them, ask the question. It’s imperative to let them know you not only value their time, but you also want to help them in return in any way you can,” she says. A simple post-interview thank you note is great way to show your appreciation, as well.
This article originally appeared on Levo and is reprinted with permission.