Making Informational Interviews Work

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In the spring, a young person’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of … “&*()(*&#$#@!  It’s almost the end of the school year, and I don’t have an internship/job lined up yet!”  Cue a spring break filled with informational interviews.  I’ve participated in dozens of such interviews – first as a student exploring careers, then when I changed careers, and now as a frequent “interviewee.”  Here are a few tips on how to make them productive:

  • Come prepared. Bring a list of questions that you can refer to as needed.  You may not ask all of them, and you may think of others during your meeting, but the list will help you steer the conversation and avoid any awkward pauses.  And make sure you bring hard copies of your resume to the meeting, even if you’ve already sent one to the interviewee.  He or she may not have had a chance to review it or the time to track it down.  Speaking of time…
  • Watch your watch. Anyone who is interested in helping others will be glad to meet with you. But do try to ensure that the meeting lasts no longer than 30 minutes.  Many of us interviewees are busy and can’t afford to spend too much time with you.  The exception is a meeting over lunch or coffee, but try to stay within an hour for those.  (Note:  It’s OK to let the interviewee pay if he or she offers to do so.)
  • Meet in person if possible. This isn’t always feasible, especially if you and your interviewee are in different cities.  But if the opportunity presents itself, take it.  It’s much easier for an interviewee to remember you (and keep you in mind for opportunities) if you’ve met face to face.
  • Don’t expect on-the-spot offers. It is conceivable that your interviewee knows of an opening in his or her company and can arrange a “real” interview for you.  But probably not.  It’s more likely that if you make a good impression, the interviewee will hear of an opportunity (perhaps at another company) a few months down the line and alert you to it.
  • Send a thank-you note. Some people prefer handwritten thank-you notes to thank-you emails. As for me, I don’t care what form it’s in; I just like to receive one.  It helps to cement a good impression.
  • Stay in touch. Even if you followed all the above guidelines, your interviewees’ recollection of you will fade if you don’t keep in touch. Invite them to connect on LinkedIn, which ensures that they are up to date on where you are and what you’re doing.  If you find a job or internship, let the interviewee know.  She or he might be able to help you with future career moves.  And building a network is always important, no matter where you are in your career.

Admittedly, these suggestions are hardly groundbreaking. I recall hearing many of them from the career experts at my college.  But I have come across a few informational interviewers who seem unprepared, so it can’t hurt to provide a few reminders.  They’re pretty easy to follow, so start filling up your calendar for mid-March or whenever your holiday takes place.  Informational interviews may not be the most exciting way to spend your Spring Break, but they just might lead to your big break.