By Judy Cushman
As you build a career in communications, a fundamental strategy for success is to build relationships with others in the industry. One tactic to achieve that is the informational interview.
An informational interview is not a job interview. The intent is to learn what the senior communications professional does in her or his job, the challenges they face, the aspects of their industry, any advice or job leads they might have (including even information about openings at other companies) and other senior professionals you should talk to.
The idea is to get in the door, make an excellent impression and start to build a relationship. If you happen to be extremely lucky, it could lead to a project, internship or even a job offer. But that is not the intent. The intent is to increase your network of connections that will, one day, lead to a job.
So how do you set up an informational interview? If you have a personal contact to pave the way, that’s very helpful. If you don’t, there are many ways to make a connection.
Do not use a “standard letter.” It is junk mail and will be treated as such. If your contact uses social media, take that route. I know clients are using LinkedIn more and more frequently. You can also see if there is some connection on a personal level through Facebook, although I prefer the professional route.
Make the request short and compelling. Take the burden of saying “I don’t have any openings” off the table. Create a tight, focused subject line. Find a real connection – for example, a professional group connection or a project you wish to discuss. It is also valuable to be honest and say, “OSU grad, needs 20-minutes to learn about…” or “wants guidance on Product PR, Sustainability, Public Affairs.” Or whatever is real and what you would like to discuss.
And, of course, the phone also works. There are very few senior communications professionals who will turn down a polite request for an informational interview.
Most people are very busy so offer to come by at any convenient time for a personal meeting or to set up a phone appointment in the next two+ weeks. Give them plenty of time to schedule it.
In the interview, always have a business card and do NOT yank out a resume. Offer to email it to him/her (along with your thank you note). That gives you a reason to follow-up. No one keeps paper these days and the senior pro can share your resume more easily with others.
Always ask if there are other professionals that might have a perspective to share on the topics you discuss and be sure to jot down names and emails.
Your goal is to start a dialog and keep up a flow of information. Ask what professional meetings you should attend and you might find a group that will be particularly helpful because it is niched in an area you want to work in.
Keep the informational interview brief: maybe 20-30 minutes. This is a time for you to listen, not talk. Extract as much information as you can in that short amount of time.
Use the opportunity to build a relationship so that you are top of mind if a job comes up or if someone asks him/her who to recommend for a position.
In conclusion, the informational interview can lead to many new contacts and lay the groundwork for building an excellent network of supporters. And, who knows, you might even end up with a job offer.