Coffee Talk: Informational Interview (Part III: “How To”)

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We have established what to expect from an informational interview and how you ask for one.  But then what?  If you have a great informational interview lined up – how should you act, and what do you say?  Bring a fruit basket?  Wear a hat?  So many questions. While I can’t answer all of them, here are a few simple things to keep in mind:

Preparing:

  • Do your (online) research: While you are still allowed to ask very basic questions about a company or person during an informational interview, it shouldn’t be anything that could be answered on their website.
  • Make a list of questions: In all the companies I have worked for, I can confidently say that their company websites did not at all accurately reflect what the company was doing, especially in real time.  These websites are often dated, or written by people not actually doing the work.  Ask about things that interest you and ask their advice on what is currently going on these areas.
  • Brush up on your relevant experience/resume: Make sure that you refresh your memory on all areas of your CV/resume that may be brought up.  I honestly need to reread sections of my masters thesis still – that thing was far too long and boring.  Also, bringing a copy of your resume with you can be helpful, as busy people often don’t have a chance to look at it before you meet.

Never say “anything”

  • This is my biggest pet peeve as the informational interviewer, even though I am very guilty of having done this myself when I first graduated from college.  It is one thing to say to a friend or relative in a moment of career frustration that you are willing to do “anything” career-wise, but this is not helpful during an informational interview. To help illustrate, here are some “anythings” I have heard people say recently:
    • “I’d be interested in taking anything to get me out of my current job situation.”
    • “I would love to do anything around social entrepreneurship.”
    • “I would be willing to take anything at Google.”
    • “If you could do anything to help me get on the Tony Danza show, I would love you forever.” (ok, this one didn’t really happen)
  • Informational interviews are like first dates – you don’t want to come off desperate.  Saying on a first date that you are willing to marry “anyone” just might be one of the most unattractive things I can imagine.
    • “I would be open to any kind of relationship.”
    • “I am willing to marry any guy with a job.  OK, any guy that wants to have a job.”  See? No bueno.
  • You really aren’t interested in doing “anything”: I realize now that when I used to say “anything” when I was first graduated college, I really meant, “I don’t know what is out there.” This is a big distinction.  Saying “anything” really doesn’t help nor motivate your interviewer – they need guidance to help you. They want to know the why behind a broad interest, such as an interest in a company, or why you want to enter a certain industry.  Before your interview, write out a list of specific things that you know you do want, which in this case can actually be anything :), such as:
    • Living in San Francisco
    • Working in teams with other people
    • Having potential to grow and be promoted
    • Opportunities to be creative
    • Make a lot of cheddar
    • Get rid of student loans
    • Have a flexible work schedule
    • Work with lots of young, like-minded people
    • Have ample opportunities to be mentored
    • Learn more technical skills (i.e. web design)
    • Be away from a computer as much as possible

Obviously a lot of people would want all of these things, but picking out the 3-4 MOST important to you would actually really help guide your interviewer. Now instead of saying, “I would do anything at Google,” you can say, “I would love to work for a big company with a lot of young people in the tech industry in San Francisco.  Also, I think it would be a good place to enter into the tech industry, since there is so much to get involved with.”  Statements like this will really, really help your interviewer.

Follow-up

  • Thank you emails: The obvious but often forgotten thank you.  Send a thank you immediately, preferably the next day.  It doesn’t have to be long, but something thoughtful and specific is far better.  Again, while it is very appropriate to ask for additional resources, only mention additional people/connections that were offered during the actual interview.
  • Hand written thank you cards: I sometimes do the hand written thank you (and many of my very successful friends say there is no other way), especially for people who are particularly helpful.
  • Additional follow-up emails/interviews: whether it is getting in touch with them each time you are in town, or sending them thoughtful articles on relevant materials every few months, this is totally appropriate and encouraged. It helps them keep you in mind in the future, and builds a more solid connection.

But above all – relax!  This interview is for you learn more about what you want to do.  Good luck!

Continue reading Part I and Part II of this post.

4 thoughts on “Coffee Talk: Informational Interview (Part III: “How To”)

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