The Low-down on The Informational Interview
As one who’s been on both sides, I’m a big proponent of the informational interview. Like an internship it provides you an opportunity to try things out and get a crash course in a short span of time. Unlike an internship it’s usually just an hour long commitment. If you plan to pick some professional brains this summer here are some tips to get the most out of the experience.
Know who to pick
Step number one is having an idea of who’s the right person to meet with. Sure they may work at a prestigious company or have Fortune 500 clients but do they work in the department you’re interested in? Try to pick people who work in a department you’re familiar with or who have produced work that you admire. Professionals you’re meeting with wont expect you to know everything and certainly don’t expect you to have memorized their LinkedIn profiles. You wont become an expert with a five minute Google search on a name or topic. If you fake it, they’ll notice.
If you’re new to the city or job market you may not know as much as you think about a particular industry. That’s OK. Be honest about your enthusiasm for your interests. Focus on what you know and what you aspire to be. This doesn’t mean don’t prepare. Pick two or three topics that you would like to cover in your conversation. If it helps, write them down before hand. This will guide the interviewee and help them understand how best to help you. Most importantly listen.
Don’t go in with expectations
This isn’t a job interview. Imagine if you had a great conversation with someone at a social event and at the end they asked you to pay them. The value you’re getting from meeting with a professional is in the information. The money and jobs come later. Presumably the person you’re meeting with is a busy person so be thankful for their time and don’t expect an immediate, tangible return. Instead take good notes on what they are saying. The amount of knowledge in one conversation with the right person can contain years worth of useful instruction.
A successful informational interview should always end with a “thank you” email follow up. It’s a great way to keep a line of communication open. I’ve had people contact me related to threads that are over two years old (I’m not a zero inbox proponent). If you’re both comfortable with it you can add each other on LinkedIn, another way to stay in touch for future collaboration. Though they may seem like stars, those in desirable positions are people too. Working in a high-level position is stressful and most professionals are blinded by their day to day workload. If you compliment them and genuinely appreciate their status they’ll appreciate it. Every one likes to be considered an expert.
Been on many an informational interview? What’s worked for you?