There are two kinds of interviews: the job interview and the informational interview. Both are equally important, and the latter might even lead to the former. I’m going to focus on the informational interview because I feel like it is a critical component to lining up job interviews and networking.
An informational interview is the process of asking to meet with someone who is working in an industry you'd either ideally like to be working in or know more about. Think of them as an opportunity to continue your education about a particular career and, most importantly, to network.
The first informational interview I ever went on was with a managing editor for a local magazine. I spent hours preparing my questions, made sure I knew exactly what my goals were for the conversation, etc. I thought someday I wanted to be a managing editor and I was very interested in the process that took him from college to managing editor. Not only did he ground my perception of that process, but also he introduced me to other people in the publishing industry. Six months later, he remembered who I was, and HE approached ME for an internship with his publication.
That experience made me realize the power of the informational interview and helps me still remember why they are critical. Not every info interview pays off, but they are all some form of growth and networking and the ones that do are well worth the ones that don’t.
During one of my internships with a magazine, I met my good friend and colleague Tiana Toso, she was in the middle of a goal she had set for herself: to go on one informational interview a week during her entire internship. I was amazed at this goal and inspired by her determination. She is one of the most professional and ambitious people I know and I asked her to share with us a few of her informational interview tips.
When preparing for an informational interview, you have two choices: 1. Pretend you already know everything there is to know about your line of work or 2. Throw your ego out the window and start gleaning priceless information from professionals that actually do know it all – and are very willing to share their expertise with you for the price of a mocha. If you’d like a few tips and tricks on how to get this process started, read on.
Stalking is good.
Okay. No need to be a creep. But it got your attention didn’t it? Good. Find a business you admire, one whose mission and vision align well with your career goals. Don’t fool yourself. Not everyone was cut out to work for swanky Fotune 500 companies. Just because they have big names and a big bank accounts doesn’t mean they align with your career goals. Once you’ve found five to ten businesses you think you’d mesh well with, stalk them. No, not the binoculars-in-a-tree type stalking. Professional stalking. Do these businesses have a blog? Read it. Is that blog on an RSS feed? Follow it. Are they on Twitter? Read their tweets. Do they have a Facebook fan page? Become a fan. Or, better yet, get your bum off the computer and find an article about them in a library. If the amount of information you’ve downloaded from these sources starts to make you blue in the face, you might just be ready to speak intelligently with one of the professionals that work there. But before you pick up the phone, read on.
Forget about cold calling.
Start out by asking friends, family, coworkers and acquaintances if they know any professionals in the line of work you are pursuing. If they do, you already have a very natural way to introduce yourself. It’s never a “cold call” if you’re able to say, “Your friend referred me to you...” You may not know it yet, but you’ve already started a networking web. Why? Because at the end of your first interview, you’ll ask this person if they could refer you to two or three more professionals in their field of work. Most people are excited to flaunt their connections, and this is a good way for them to do so. This means you have two to three more people you can call saying, “Your colleague referred me to you…” in your opening line. Repeat this process as many times as needed. It’s as easy as that. No cold calls required. There’s a chance this could lead you to an informational interview with one of the top ten companies you just spent so much time stalking. If you believe in the “six degrees of separation theory”, it’s bound to happen at some point right? And if it doesn’t…fine, do the cold call, but don’t say I told you to.
Just like a good date – get to know them.
At this point, you’ve been a successful stalker and have hopefully pinned down a time to meet with someone for an informational interview. Take a moment to revel in your success. Let it soak in. You’ve done well! Now… get over yourself. From here on out, it is not about you. Harsh reality, I know. But it’s for a good cause. I’ll illustrate this by describing one of the worst dates I’ve been on. It went something like this:
11:00 p.m. – I’m picked up at my apartment. As soon as I hop in the car, Mr. No-So-Charming pops in his most recent CD release and begins to brag about what an amazing saxophone player he is. This one-sided conversation continues until we arrive at our destination. Note: He still doesn’t know my full name, where I grew up or what I do for a living.
11:20 p.m. – We arrive at a dueling piano bar. As we walk in Mr. Not-So-Charming is greeted very warmly by all the regulars. Thirty seconds later he is on stage with his saxophone and begins to woo the crowds with his wicked sax-playing skills. I’m left alone. I find a seat at the bar and strike up a conversation with a nice, silver-haired gentleman next to me.
1:30 a.m. – Mr. Not-So-Charming is still playing on stage and still has no clue who I am. Meanwhile, the nice, silver-haired man next to me already knows my life story, my name, the meaning behind my name and what jobs I’ve had over the past 3 years.
2:00 a.m. – We leave the dueling piano bar. Mr. Not-So-Charming spends the rest of the trip back to my place praising himself for his stellar performance that evening. Needless to say, I didn’t return any of his phone calls.
Moral of the story: Don’t be a “Mr. Not-So-Charming” when you go to your informational interview. Again, it’s not about you. Like a good date, refrain from monopolizing the conversation and focus on asking them intelligent questions about who they are and what they do.
Many other tips and tricks about informational interviews are, of course, stored on the massive search engine known as “Google.” However, it gets tiring to read the same-old crap like “dress professionally”, “show up on time”, and “be yourself”. Okay, it’s not crap. Those are important tips. But, hopefully this article gave a new twist to the scads of articles you’ve already read on this topic. Happy networking!
Give yourself a goal like Tia did. Maybe one informational interview a month? Have no idea where to start? If you're looking for someone in the art, publishing, writing, or nonprofit industries, send me an email at email@example.com and I might know someone to get you started.
Next week I'll be talking about how to own the job/internship when you do get it. Good luck!