The inspiration for my blog posts often comes directly from my conversations with clients and prospects. I find that, frequently, there are recurring themes woven throughout these exchanges and a lot of great lessons learned by job seekers and sometimes lessons still TO be learned. Today I’m launching a periodic blog series titled “Job Seeker Stories” where I share interviews I’ve conducted with individuals amid their job search. My hope is that you pick up some valuable tips or winning strategies that are illustrated through my discussions with job seekers. The topic I’m covering today is Informational Interviews and how they can accelerate and strengthen your job search efforts. Read on to learn what Kelly, an emerging young professional, had to say on the topic.
Kelly’s Background and the Informational Interview
Kelly is one semester away from graduating with her bachelor’s degree in Marketing. As a fifth-year senior, she has four internships under her belt and is about to start her fifth, and final, internship to round out her undergraduate professional work experience. What impressed me about Kelly was her ability to recognize, rather quickly in her job search as a second-year undergraduate, that where she was investing most of her time and efforts in trying to land a great internship, was yielding the least desirable results. Translation: a lot of job search activity, but few (if any) interviews and no job offers. When Kelly learned about the concept and usage of Informational Interviews, things changed for her. Five professional internships later, spanning four years, makes her an authority on the topic! Read on to learn about Kelly’s experience.
Q & A with Kelly
If someone asked you to define what an Informational Interview is, how would you describe it?
I would describe an informational interview as a casual way to get your foot in the door with a company while also developing meaningful relationships along the way.
How and when were you introduced to the concept of Informational Interviews?
I was introduced to the concept of informational interviews in my sophomore year of college. I was beginning to apply for internships and found myself “resume dumping” where I basically was applying to whatever I could in the hopes of getting a response or interview. Informational interviews were introduced to me to help me develop relationships with someone within the company in a more casual setting, where this person would ideally be able to speak well on my behalf or even pass my resume along internally versus relying solely on the online job application process.
Describe your first experience in requesting / arranging an Informational Interview.
In arranging my first informational interview, I reached out to a person who was a family friend of mine working in the marketing field. I emailed her asking to grab coffee at a local café and to get some words of advice she had while I began my internship search.
How did you conduct that first Informational Interview? How did you prepare? Did you know how to prepare?
I went to my first informational interview very unprepared. I didn’t do much research on the company and did not prepare questions ahead of time. I didn’t quite know how the conversation would flow and, in hindsight, I realize the lack of preparation was a missed opportunity. I vowed not to repeat that mistake the next time I had the chance to do an informational interview.
How has your approach changed since then?
I now do extensive research in advance on the people I’m meeting and also research the company. I send them a very thoughtful email afterwards thanking them for their time. I am sure to write down brief notes throughout our conversation, so I can refer to specific points in the follow-up email.
How do you go about deciding which companies or people to target for Informational Interviews?
Initially I wasn’t too particular about which companies or people I contacted for informational interviews. The reason for this was I felt like no matter which company or person I connect with for discussion purposes, it would benefit me in some way. Typically, the people I get coffee with are friends of friends who have gotten my name through my request for an introduction, and even if they don’t work at a company I am interested in, the relationship we have will help me with networking down the road.
Describe any awkwardness that you’ve experienced in these conversations.
Without a doubt, it’s always awkward meeting with someone you don’t know for the first time and trying to have a meaningful conversation with them. I now rely on my research and preparation because I can always find some piece of information in their background that is interesting or a common bond that we share that can be the kick-off to a friendly conversation.
What success stories or real positives have come from Informational Interviews you’ve conducted over the years?
An example of a positive experience I’ve had with an informational interview was very recently. I received a business card from a man I met at a networking event for people pursuing advertising in Cincinnati. He worked for an awesome ad agency downtown and I was eager to apply for a position there. I made sure to connect with him on LinkedIn later that night and wrote a personalized note with the invitation request thanking him for his time. After I got back from my summer internship in New York City, I reached out and we arranged to meet for coffee. I was able to ask him questions about the company, what he liked about it and what his career journey was like. I then proceeded to ask about the hiring process and open opportunities at the company. Following our conversation, I sent a thank you email and he replied saying he forwarded my information, along with a recommendation, to HR and that they would reach out for a formal interview soon. I would call that a success story!
What are the biggest benefits that you’ve reaped from Informational Interviews? What priority do you place on Informational Interviews in your overall career and job search strategy?
That is easy! The relationships I have gained from these informational interviews have been so amazing for me and the biggest benefit of all. They’ve opened doors that I don’t think would have been opened without someone helping me from within the companies I’ve pursued and, equally as important, are these same people introducing me to others. I will continue to put informational interviewing at the top of my career priority list whether I’m looking for a job and even after I’ve landed one. I can see how important relationships are already in my career and I want to always be learning and connecting as my career grows. Informational interviews have been key in my being able to interview for and land jobs at great companies up to this point, so why mess with success?