Informational Interviewing is actually a thing. And there’s a good chance you may have conducted one before – perhaps not even knowing it.

Everyone’s been given the advice to cold call or set up a conversation via email with a professional in the field you’re aspiring to eventually make a difference in. But how many actually go out and muster up the courage to make that call? Who knows. Although these calls haven’t exactly transformed into a job on my end yet, they have certainly provided great opportunities to build a network and contact list.

For two years now, I have used outlets like LinkedIn, Twitter and email to reach out to professionals in the broadcast journalism and sports media field, in hopes of setting up a phone call for questions. In reality, somewhere north of 50 percent probably don’t even read my note. And that’s fine. I always try my best to acknowledge the life of a busy professional, who usually has a family on the side as well. Then, there are those professionals just starting out, who remember well what it takes to land that first job right out of college. I’ve received some of the most meaningful, in-depth feedback from professionals under 30.

It may take a little bit of luck on your side, but once you reach a comfort level with Informational Interviewing, it’s a great skill to have in your back pocket.

Professionals I reached out to and am lucky to have heard back from:

Jeff Idelson – President of the Baseball Hall of Fame – Cooperstown, NY. I reached Mr. Idelson through a family connection (via email) in Cooperstown and was lucky enough to be invited in to meet with him during the summer of 2014. He shared with me his journey from starting off in the Boston Red Sox concession stands to eventually becoming the President of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Nicest guy around. He then passed me along to a friend of his by the name of Brian Kenny – former ESPN anchor and current studio host for MLB Network.

Jeff Lantz – Minor League Baseball Director of Communications – St. Petersburg, FL. Mr. Lantz and I chatted on the phone during the fall of 2014 when he was the Manager of Media Relations for the Baltimore Orioles. He spent seven years with the O’s, but spent 11 years prior with the Triple-A Iowa Cubs of the Pacific Coast League.

Adam Amin – radio and sportscaster with ESPN and Sports USA Radio Network – Spirit Lake, Iowa. Adam is a young and rising talent in the sportscasting industry. He was nice enough to answer my LinkedIn message and we chatted over the phone during the summer of 2015. Coming out of Valparaiso University, Adam made the jump to ESPN in a hurry. He’s so active on Twitter, it’s sometimes difficult to keep up. He was a play-by-play fanatic during college, which provided him with plenty of reps to make a broadcast reel out of. He stressed the importance of getting reps during our phone call.

Joe Davis – Sportscaster with Fox Sports and the Los Angeles Dodgers – Potterville, Michigan. Much like Adam, Joe is a young and rising sportscaster. Just recently, Joe was named to the 2016 Los Angeles Dodgers broadcast team. With Vin Scully’s retirement looming, Joe could be seen as his predecessor in LA. He set aside some time in August of 2015 to hop on a call with me. Joe made the decision to graduate Beloit College in under four years, in order to accept a play-by-play gig with a Minor League baseball team – a decision he does not regret in the slightest.

Here are the questions I asked during my interactions with the professionals mentioned above:

  • What did you do in college to ensure you landed a job post graduation?
  • Are there any sacrifices that you feel you make doing what you do?
  • Who have been some of your mentors along the way? And are you still in touch?
  • What’s your ultimate goal?
  • The biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome.
  • Would you be willing to critique my broadcast reel/resume?
  • How much time do you have to chat today? I don’t want to keep you from anything.
  • What’s the best way to keep in touch going forward?

One small detail that is easy to look past, but goes a long way is throwing a thank you card in the mail after a professional sets aside time for you. Even if you don’t have their address, shoot an email or Tweet their way expressing your appreciation.

Informational Interviewing may seem like a whole lot of effort in exchange for no guaranteed outcome. And more often than not, this might usually be the case. At the end of the day, it’s an easy opportunity to build your network, learn about your field and gain confidence in an interview setting.  Give it a try.

On my radar: Senior Golf Writer Jason Sobel; ESPN College Basketball Analyst Dick Vitale; NBC Sportscaster Al Michaels