Initiating a conversation for professional networking is often referred to as an informational interview. These are brief meetings in which you gather information about a particular field or occupation. These conversations can take place via email or webcam, on the phone, or in person, but should always be handled professionally.

Make a Connection

Resist the temptation to ask all of your questions right away and keep the message brief (no more than a few sentences).

  1. Describe what caught your interest about this person.
  2. Be clear, but concise about what you hope to learn. Is it something about the industry or specific job? The job search or application process? Never ask for a job or internship directly.
  3. Suggest a few dates for connecting, but remain flexible. Remember that professionals often have competing priorities such as deadlines or business travel and may require planning further out or rescheduling.
  4. Be patient and allow several days for a reply. 

After you receive a response:

  1. Reply promptly and be sure to thank them. If they suggest calling to set something up, do that.
  2. Prepare by learning what they do professionally; Google them and the company.
  3. Reflect on what you want to learn from the conversation.
  4. Arrive on time and dress professionally.
  5. Prepare good open-ended questions that can inform you about the work they do as well as concrete questions that lead you to further action.
  6. Listen.
  7. Be open to feedback and suggestions, even if they’re tough to hear.
  8. Learn something about them. (Perhaps there’s a way you might return the favor later.)
  9. Follow up promptly. Send a personal note thanking them for their time.
  10. Consider writing again a few weeks later to share your progress.

Questions to Ask

Target your questions for the person with whom you’re meeting. Here are a few examples to get you started:

  • How did you get into this line of work?
  • What is a typical week like?
  • What has surprised you about your job and about your industry?
  • What skills and personality traits do you find are most important to succeed in your job?
  • What major changes do you see coming in your industry in the years ahead?
  • I’m looking for an internship/job in this field; what resources do you think would be especially helpful for me in my search?

Contact CP&R if you want some additional support getting started.