So you just met the most amazing professional at an event like the UW AMA Etiquette Dinner—where do you go from there? For those of us starting out in the professional world, or even those of us just starting our college careers, meeting new people and networking may be a daunting task. Here, we offer another post as part of our “101” series! (Check out Speed Networking 101 here.) As a student, it's extremely useful to know how to make the most out of the connections you make, whether for career growth or simply for our own personal curiosity.
One of the most useful things you can have in your repertoire for successful networking is the ability to effectively go through an informational interview. The name of the meeting itself sounds much scarier than the actual process itself—trust me! If it helps, replace the name “informational interview” with “coffee meet-up” or “having a chat.” While informational interviews tend to skew more professional, the session itself is not so much different from having a casual conversation with another human being.
“It’s my first informational interview! I’m stressing out! What should I do? What do I need to know?”
First of all, that’s the beauty of these interviews. You don’t really need to know anything! However, it is useful to do a little bit of research beforehand so that you can come into the process more efficiently and get the answers that you’re looking for. After all, in setting up the informational interview, there was probably something you were curious about or wanted to know more about. Why not find out more?
Here are some tips from our team:
1. Don’t stress out about the meeting.
As the date of the informational interview comes up, it is easy to get lost in how you don’t know anything about the topic you may be discussing or how you’re worried you may make a fool out of yourself in front of someone you respect. First of all, don’t freak out! The other person you are talking to is just that—another person. They are another human being who has feelings and emotions, just like you. Do not get into your own head and over-formalize a conversation that should be natural. If you care about the topic you are chatting about and are truly genuine, you have nothing to worry about. After all, you already did the hardest part: you got the other individual to agree to the interview in the first place. Be proud of that.
2. Do your research beforehand.
While you don’t necessarily have to know every single ins-and-out of the topic you’re discussing, or need to be able to recall exactly what job this person has worked at during what year, it is useful to get some background knowledge in general. Check out the other person’s LinkedIn profile and see what their past work experience has been. It’s okay—this isn’t the equivalent of Internet stalking. You are simply trying to see what they may be interested in so you can have a good conversation with them the next day, or the next week.
3. Read articles on the topic.
Along that note, you may also find it useful to look and see if there are any articles they have liked recently or blog posts they may have written. These are good ways to get soft insights into what the other person may care about and could wind up being great points of talking that go into more depth than simply, “What do you do?” It helps strike up conversation in places you never may have thought of before and helps you really get to know the other person better. While this may just be your first chat with them, you never know when a new relationship may foster a lifelong mentorship or a string of useful advice.
4. Be curious!
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. One of the reasons an informational interview is so useful is because it can help you learn about topics that you might not normally have much insight into. For example, if you’re wondering what life in a marketing agency may be like (such as with our visit from Hansen Belyea and trip to Project Bionic), this may be an invaluable opportunity to find out. If you want to know what the day-to-day operations are like, or how a photography room works, just ask! Who knows, you might even get a tour of the agency itself or get an unexpected piece of advice. After all, they’re the experts who can give you that lens into their world.
5. Bring a notepad.
While this may seem trivial, especially in today’s digital age, there is still a place for pen and paper. In an informational interview, it may be rude to have your laptop with you or your phone out. However, a notepad will not cause the same scrutiny.
Sometimes, the other person may have a useful piece of advice or a tidbit of wisdom that you want to write down, or even keep to quote at a later time. With a notepad, you’ll ensure that you don’t miss anything and retain any knowledge you care about. After all, even though you tell yourself you’ll remember that sentence, you might be kicking yourself fifteen minutes later when you forget it in the midst of the conversation.
6. Keep in contact.
Whether the informational interview went well or went poorly, keep in contact. If you did not think the conversation went that great, or even if it was slightly awkward because you couldn’t find good talking points, make sure to follow up. Thank the other person for their time and input. A hand-written note is always appreciated when possible, but if not, make sure to at least send them a timely e-mail (ideally right after the conversation or later the same day).
If you feel like you got a lot out of the chat, you have an even better reason to keep in touch! Make sure to follow-up in this situation as well and talk to the other person frequently. If you only message them once every few months, or a year later, they may not remember who you are or why they should care. However, if you are keeping in constant contact with this person, you are fostering a relationship that may become more valuable than even a job opportunity. This could be the beginning to a lifelong relationship, or even a long-term mentorship.
Armed with these tips, trying your hand at informational interviews should be a little less intimidating. The best piece of advice our team can give you is to just stretch those networking muscles! These chats might not feel exactly natural now, but very soon, after a bit of practice, you’ll be a pro! The only way to get better at it is to keep at it, and keep learning as you go. There is no wrong way to conduct an informational interview. After all, in the end, it is all for your personal benefit—what you get out of the session is up to you.