The Art of Informational Interviewing

It's not always this complex
A Social Network
Source: Wikipedia

Students are often intimidated by the idea of “networking” and feel that they should be able to compete successfully for a position based solely on their qualifications. While this is an honorable approach, it is especially necessary in today’s market to identify people in your field of expertise who you can use as contacts when looking for a professional position. 

One way to develop this network of contacts is to conduct a series of informational interviews. These are informal meetings that can provide you invaluable information on research, key figures and organizations within this field of interest. Oftentimes these informal contacts may lead to positions in the future.  Outlined below are the steps you need to take to conduct informational interviews, and tips on how to make this a successful exercise.

1. Identifying people to interview

  • Try to identify personal contacts that you may have through family, friends, professors, former employers, alumni of Maxwell, etc. that are in your field of interest.

2. The dreaded phone call

  • Once you have identified potential candidates and completed research about the organizations where they work, you should give them a call. There are two things that you need to keep in mind that can make or break your success here:
    1) Begin by explaining how you got the person’s name.  This will validate your initial contact and provide a frame of reference for the individual.
    2) Clearly communicate your purpose: You are not looking for a job, but merely for information about the organization, field, career, etc.

3. What to ask

  • Since you initiated this contact, you are responsible for asking all of the questions.  You need to spend time doing your research about the individual and the organization that they are with prior to the interview. You should also prepare exactly what questions you will ask. The goal of the interview is to glean information, advice and referrals, and to leave a good impression.

4. Follow Up — the most important part!!!

  • This can really make or break your success in terms of how useful this contact is in the future. You have to follow-up. This means that you do the following three simple things:
    1) At the end of the interview ask if you may keep in touch with the individual and provide them with a copy of your resume and/or a business card;
    2) Send a thank you note within one week of your meeting. This should be hand-written and mailed to the individual. This is the most effective way to really leave a good impression; and
    3) Keep in touch. Call this person periodically to find out how they are doing, give them an update on your career path and ask a few more questions.