pexels-photo-199495A surprising 25 percent of adults don’t know the best way to go about networking, according to a 2015 survey by the University of Phoenix School of Business.

Fortunately, informational interviews are an easy way to serve up networking opportunities that often result in winning connections for your career. And when you take a page from the tennis pros, it’s easy to see what you need to do to gain the advantage in your next informational interview.

For starters, when playing tennis, it’s key to be focused, determined, and fast. You also have to keep your eye on the ball, be prepared to move at any given moment, and go for those long shots when the opportunity is right.

Ready to explore different sports jobs through informational interviews? Follow these tips to ace your next informational interview like a tennis pro:

1. Identify Three Contacts.

Choosing the right professional is an important part of setting up a successful informational interview. While it might be your dream to have coffee with the owner of your favorite sports team, you might have better luck setting up an interview with the team’s marketing manager.

Use LinkedIn to identify three individuals who work in different sports jobs within the organization or specific track you’d like to pursue. Making a list of several people to meet with allows you to have a backup plan in case one of the connections isn’t available.

2. Make the Connection and Set Up Interviews.

After you identified contacts using social media, reach out with a friendly email introducing yourself. Be clear about your intentions and explain why you’re reaching out. Just like in tennis, there may be a lot of back and forth when trying to coordinate, so try to be flexible, yet specific in your request.

While you could say “Hi there. I’m interested in learning more about how you broke into the sports industry. Can we schedule an informational interview?” in your email, it doesn’t suggest how much time you expect to chat with the individual or a specific goal for the meeting.

Instead, try something like “Hello! I noticed you’re the social media manager for the Lugnuts. I’m a huge fan! I’d love to learn more about what it’s like to do social media for a baseball team. Would you be interested in meeting over coffee for 30 minutes on Friday?”  

Remember to be flexible and patient as you work to find a time that works well for you and the professional.

3. Master the Court.

Before you can head into any informational interview, master the layout of the court.

Plan at least 30 minutes to an hour for your informational interview. And be mindful of their time.  

Instead of the other person asking you questions like in a traditional interview setting, you’ll be serving up questions. Prior to the interview, make a list of five to 10 questions that you’d like to discuss.

Some questions to get you started include:

  • How did you get your start in this industry?
  • Is there something you wish you would have known starting out?
  • What’s your biggest challenge in this role?
  • What do you enjoy most about your job?
  • What does a typical day look like for you?

4. Keep Your Eye on The Ball.

Be prepared to learn a lot of new information as you chat with professionals who work in different sports jobs. While it’s wise, to take notes and listen carefully throughout the entire interview, be sure too also engage and make it a discussion.

Show you are engaged by asking a follow up question after the professional provides an insightful piece of advice or tells a story about their career, or expressing further interest in what they’ve shared, just as you would while talking with a friend. You want to be professional, but also show your interest and skill set to begin to create a relationship focused on your ultimate goal — be it with their organization or simply within the industry.

5. Follow Up and Stay in Touch.

After the the informational interview is over, the ball is in your court. Send a thank you note or email thanking them for their time. You can also express that you look forward to staying in touch.

The relationship doesn’t end there how — at least not if you’d like a true relationship to be formed. Be sure to reach out on a regular basis to the connections you make, even if it’s a simple email to check in and say “hello.” You never know when a connection may become a winning shot for your career down the road.

What are your best tips for setting up a great informational interview?

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