Networking is something that I didn’t value (or even really understand) before I stumbled into my first informational interview.
The initial meeting
There was a woman in one of my first master’s classes who was very well spoken, and generally quite impressive. Our class only met once a month, and each time she left an impression on me. Finally, after the last class, I approached her and asked if I could meet her for breakfast to learn what she does for a living.
I’ll never forget it, we met on a Saturday morning at The Olde House Café. She told me how she worked in the insurance industry, the finance industry and for the past few years, she’s been in the sports apparel industry. She worked for Under Armour in Baltimore, Maryland. As a lifelong athlete, I envisioned a company run by big, sweaty guys; not intelligent, sophisticated women.Hearing her story of how she transitioned into different industries and learned from well-seasoned leaders that mentored and coached her along the way was fascinating and encouraging. To my surprise, she asked me a few questions at breakfast, to learn about my background and experiences and asked that I follow up with my resume. I did that, and for the next year and a half, we kept in casual contact.
… and the follow-up
As I was finishing up my degree, I reached out to her and shared that I was starting the job search. She replied with a job offer (as a temp) for me that eventually parlayed into a full-time position—I’ve been living and working in Baltimore ever since.
Today, I still utilize informational interviews as a way to make connections in my industry and expand my network. Additionally, I am now on the receiving end of the informational interviews with messages on LinkedIn. In a given month, I receive about 2 inquiries each week. Given my personal experience and success with informational interviews, I do my best to respond and accept most inquiries.
From my own experience requesting an informational interview, I’ve found that being brief and specific is the best way to get a positive response when you reach out. The most thoughtful element is explaining what you do or what you are interested in. I like to be prepared for these conversations and when people are generic, it doesn’t maximize the time we have to connect. However, I’ve gained enough experience to be prepared for most conversations.
For example, when an undergraduate student contacts me, and I have a book recommendation for them, I always advise them to utilize their college’s careers office since I did not as a student and wish I would have. In speaking with a colleague in the industry, I have an elevator pitch prepared to summarize my role and either an event or newsletter to subscribe to, that they may find valuable.
One aspect that makes informational interviews a great asset to me is that when I have a meaningful and organic connection with someone, as a result of an informational interview that I requested; I stay in touch with them. Typically, I am requesting informational interviews with individuals across the country and sometimes I find myself traveling to the cities where they work; but mostly I keep in contact with regular phone calls.
Professionally, it has been an asset to me to have contacts at different companies for different projects. Personally, if I were to be searching for a career change, I feel confident my network would be a great resource as a result of these informational interviews.