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What if you could get the inside scoop about your passion from someone who has years of experience? What if you could learn the challenges associated with your passion ahead of time and prepare yourself? What if you could get connected to a whole network of people in your dream industry in just 30 minutes?

Take the guesswork out of your passion with informational interviews.

Informational interviews are one of the most effective, easiest ways to break into an industry. And, not only will you make connections that may very well lead to your dream job, you’ll also get the inside scoop and expert advice on the industry you’re pursuing. It’s your chance to meet one-on-one with someone who is doing exactly what you want to do and to ask her your burning questions.

An informational interview is really just a fancy way of saying, “Ask someone out for a cup of coffee or to have a quick phone call to pick their brain.” Reach into your network and find friends of friends, friends of relatives, or even people you don’t know that you find on LinkedIn, and send them a quick email asking them for their advice. While you may feel very uncomfortable emailing a complete stranger and asking them to coffee, remember that the majority of people want to help. Everyone wants to feel important, so when you put them in the position of the “expert” giving advice, most people will be more than happy to meet you for coffee.

How to Schedule an Informational Interview

Here are the most important things to remember to master your informational interview:

1. Come Prepared

Do your research before the meeting. Take the time to learn about the person you asked out for coffee — read her LinkedIn profile, her blog, her website, her social media channels. People love to talk about themselves, so break the ice by asking some general questions in the first couple minutes (questions like, “Why did you want to work in this field?” or “What does an average day look like for you?”). In addition to preparing questions to ask, be sure to prepare yourself for possible questions the expert may ask you. Have an idea of how you’d like to present and sell yourself. Remember, this meeting isn’t just about getting advice, it’s about making a great first impression.

2. Know What You Want

Before the meeting, identify what you want. Do you want to get job hunting or interview tips? Do you want to learn about the most valuable skills needed for your dream job? Or, do you want to be introduced to someone else? Figure out what you want to learn and adjust your questions accordingly. Don’t be afraid to be blunt and ask for straight-out advice. The clearer and more focused your questions are, the more likely you are to receive super helpful answers.

3. Don’t Ask For a Job

The primary goals of a first informational interview are to build a relationship and learn more about an industry or job. Informational interviews can lead to job opportunities, but let this happen organically. After 15 or 20 minutes, once you’ve established a rapport and impressed the expert, she may ask you about your career goals and what you’re looking for. This is a natural segway into the job hunt, but you have to let the expert take the lead. Plus, people are much more likely to refer you for a job once they’ve gotten to know you and can vouch for your skills, so don’t rush it.

4. Always Send a Thank You

One of the biggest mistakes people make with informational interviews is forgetting to follow up. Even though this isn’t a formal interview, you should always, always send a thank you email after the meeting. This person took time out of their day to help you, so always show your gratitude. You never know what this person may do for you in the future. And, to make your thank you note even more powerful, provide value to the expert. Include a link to an article related to a topic you discussed, brainstorm ideas for a problem she mentioned, or introduce her to someone in your network.

Networking is almost always thrown around as the most important skill to have when finding a new job. But the truth is, networking is really hard. And it’s even harder when you want to enter a new field and don’t know anyone, or don’t even know much about the industry itself.

Informational interviews are a double whammy. They help you learn more about your passion and your dream job from someone who’s been there, and it helps you grow your network.

Conclusion & Next Steps

So, stop wondering if you should pursue your passion full time or if you would really enjoy a job in your dream industry. Simply send a 30-word email to someone and pay $6 for two coffees, and you’ll have all the answers you want.

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