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“Coffee?” — Perfecting the Art of Informational Interviews

Published on April 19, 2019, at 10:37 a.m.
by Olivia Lake.

In public relations we constantly hear the phrase, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” This can seem daunting for those who haven’t perfected the art of networking. However, one of the simplest networking approaches is an informational interview.

The Career Center at the University of California, Berkeley describes an informational interview as “an informal conversation you can have with someone working in an area of interest to you. … It is not a job interview, and the objective is not to find job openings.”

Leading a conversation with a professional can be a bit nerve-wracking. But, if you follow the steps below, you’ll be prepared to direct the conversation and leave the interviewee wowed.

An informational interview is not a job interview; rather, it’s an opportunity for you to learn more about a career, a region or a company. Beforehand, research whichever facet you want to explore.

While researching, create a running list of people you can contact. If you know where you want to go, but you’re struggling with whom to contact, head to your professors! They can connect you with alumni, who in turn can connect you to their network.

Consider what you want to gather from the conversation, then prepare a list of questions to bring. If you’re interested in their position, you can ask things like, “What does a typical day look like for you?” or “What has been your favorite campaign you’ve worked on?”

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When setting up the interview, emails are commonly favored, but there is nothing wrong with a phone call. Be kind in your inquiry, and remember they are busy, so you may not get a response right away.

A coffee shop is the perfect setting for an informational interview — you can keep the meeting to no more than 30 minutes, and it is feasible on a college budget. Picking up the tab will leave a positive impression on the professional.

In a recent Lunch & Learn focusing on networking and informational interviews, Dr. Laura Lemon, an assistant professor at The University of Alabama, advised students on what to wear. She suggested wearing business casual due to the informality of the meeting.

The questions you prepared beforehand should be printed out or written in a notebook. It is OK to take shorthand notes, as long as your note taking isn’t distracting, according to Dr. Lemon.

Wear a watch to avoid using your phone for the time. According to The Muse, staying cognizant of time and letting the interviewee know when you have 10 minutes left gives them “the opportunity to either extend the interview, or transition to a graceful conclusion.”

This section can be summed up in three words: Thank. You. Note.

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Don’t underestimate the impact of a simple handwritten note. On top of your preparedness for the meeting and a thank-you email, the note will earn you a positive, professional reputation.

If you follow this process, not only will you walk away with a wealth of knowledge, but when it’s time to apply for jobs, you will also have a strong network to reference.

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