Do you remember your first job interview? It was scary and nerve racking? However, here is some advice for a more laid back kind of interview called an informational interview.
Welcome back, as I write my second entry about my internship experiences in D.C., one topic I want to discuss is the importance of what is called an “informational interview.” First, did you ever have those students in your class you were not fond of because all they would do is talk about how great they are in so many ways? Well basically that is what an informational interview is about; to “interview” someone you admire, because of the work they produce. Professional people love talking about themselves, what better way to enhance their self-image and perception on themselves then to have an informational interview with a professional. Enough with the rant, I love talking about myself too.
So your still here and wondering, well Anton how do I get an informational interview and what do I say? Well, you came to the right place, because over the past few years, I have requested and done many informational interviews in DC. First, in order to market yourself you should be somewhat established in your internship. With that advice, give yourself 1-2 weeks of experience before you start looking in your virtual rolodex and email a whole listserv of professionals you truly admire. Instead, pick one person at least per week you would like to interview at a coffee shop or bakery (does not have to be fancy) that you admire or like the work they do. Pick the people that may be great contacts in the future to help you advance your career or at least give you great advice. Internships are mainly unpaid in the district, but it’s easier to market yourself from a company email than a Gmail account. Trust me here, I know this too well. Now comes the hard part in a sense, emailing the person on why you want to meet them. I usually say along the lines:
Dear Mr. Smith,
It was a pleasure hearing you talk at the Wilson Center on October 1, 2013 on the critical health conditions in the African Nation of South Africa and how we can take the next steps to stop this AIDS epidemic that is crippling the nation. My name is Anton and I do research for the FDA in African Affairs and Middle East Health office. In the next 10 weeks I will be interning in the Washington DC area. It would be an honor if you would join me for some coffee for an informational interview to give me an idea of your work you perform on a daily basis and your latest book on AIDS around the world. Thank you for your time reading this email and I am looking forward to hearing back from you at your convenience. Have a great day!
Not that hard, you say? Well you’re correct, it is not that hard, but worst case scenario is they may not respond back to you. That should not be an issue because there are plenty more professionals that will be more than willing to talk with you.
For these informational interviews, never be late, be early. However, let them be late so they apologize to you, it shows then they care about what you are doing and actually want to hear from you. Next, is actually meeting the person and learning from them. I’ll be honest; I still have times where I do not know what to say to these professionals. However, do not freak out or fret, usually it’s easy to start off with a conversation. Make it comfortable at first, like mention about the weather or the Metro, this lightens up the mood a bit. Below, some topics that should be discussed which allows the conversation to keep moving:
- Educational background
- Why do you like the things you do?
- What is it like on a hard day and how is it like on a typically good day?
- How did you get to where you are today?
- What can I do to improve myself to make me more competitive in this “X-title?”
One topic you should NOT mention is about open job positions. This is NOT a job interview; this is to get information from them. If you mention this, you have a great possibility you will make them annoyed and ruin your chances to even be considered later if job positions do open. Many times during these informational interviews the person if very interested in you and will ask you not just easy questions, but challenging questions. Let them get to know you and prove to them in a sense you are worthy, so when a job does open up you will be known and maybe even suggested. Treat these informational interviews like a job interview. Therefore, you should wear very nice business professional clothes. A suit jacket, tie, and dress pants is a must. In my personal experience, I have never worn comfortable casual clothes to these informational interviews and I do not plan to anytime soon.
After the informational interview is over, always say thank you for the opportunity and exchange business cards, even if you get the sense they will not help you in the future, but this makes them feel appreciated. Remember, they are taking time out of their day to visit and hear what you have to say. After the meeting, if you can send out a thank you email or letter to acknowledge you appreciated their time, even if you will not intending to stay in touch with them, say it anyways. While following these few steps you’re on your way to climb up in the working world and make the internship experience even better. These experiences you encountered during your internship are priceless. The skills you gain from the job and as well from these informational interviews will always be remembered and are crucial for jobs in the near future.
Well if you excuse me, I have to schedule an informational interview.