One of the most frequent pieces of advice I give to young professionals is to seek out successful people and ask to conduct an informational interview with them. Essentially, an informational interview, i.i., is a networking meeting where the interviewee (the successful professional) agrees to share some career advice with the interviewer (you).
I conducted tons of i.i.s when I was a student and young alum, and now I’m often the one being interviewed. And here’s the thing: if someone impresses me, I’ll go out of my way to help that person find a job or connect them with other people I know. If that person doesn’t seem to take the informational interview seriously, I usually end the call early and rarely keep in touch.
If you want to be in the former group with the people you ask for informational interviews, here are some secrets to success:
1. Confirm. At least 24 hours in advance of your scheduled phone call or meeting, confirm with your interviewee. This shows that you respect the person’s time and that you are taking this opportunity seriously.
2. Be on time. This is just as important for a phone call as it is for an in-person meeting. If you have agreed to 2pm, call at 2:00pm on the nose. Again, it’s a matter of respecting the other person’s time.
3. Do your research. It’s really irritating when someone asks to speak with me and then his or her first question is, “Can you tell me about what you do?” A simple Google search will lead you to my (or anyone’s) LinkedIn profile, Twitter feed, website and all of the articles and blog posts I’ve written. This opening question isn’t a smart use of the time you have to gain valuable career advice.
4. Clearly and concisely explain your situation. In most cases, the person you are interviewing won’t know much about you (don’t assume that he or she has read your resume or any other information, even if you’ve sent it in advance). So it’s a great idea to start the call with a brief (one- to two-minute) introduction to who you are and what you’re looking for. For instance, “I’ve just graduated with a BA in computer science and I’ve completed a few internships at big companies. My goal is to find a job at a start-up in the Boston area where I can work in product development.”
If you’re not totally sure what you want to do, it’s fine to say that you’re not sure yet, but do give the person some indication of the fields you’re interested in. For example, “I’ve just graduated with a degree in communications and, although I’m not completely sure yet what career to pursue, I’m currently looking at positions in public relations and marketing and would be open to other opportunities as well.”