The Informational Interview, Part I
As is the case with anything that requires consistent effort and self-discipline, getting started on your summer internship search is the toughest part of finding your dream job. This summer many of you (especially career-changers) will wonder where exactly do you begin?.
Networking sounds like a logical first step. After all, networking means informing people you know—personally and professionally—that you are looking for a job. Let’s assume that you have become skilled at networking, and that you’ve established several career objectives (with a particular industry or firm in mind), the next step is informational interviews. They are an excellent way to expand your personal network and collect valuable information about a company or position that interests you. Also, they are important because they help gain internships, which help gain full-time offers upon graduation.
Informational interviews can be used in two different ways: you can use the interview to get information, or you can use it to make an impression.
To get information, you need a basic understanding of the organization. This means doing some research on your own about the firm, and developing a good set of questions. I cannot over emphasize how important your research will be in developing insightful questions (Also read Banking Tidbits - Part II). Although it’s been said that informational interviews are considered a safe environment to ask questions, make no mistake that impressions are being formed very quickly about your knowledge, passion, personality, communication skills, and technical skills.
There are many reasons to conduct an informational interview. Here are a few:
- You can evaluate your compatibility with the company by comparing the realities of the field (skills required, working conditions, schedules, culture, and common traits of the employees ) to your own personal interests.
- You can determine how people in a particular business, industry, or job view their roles and future growth opportunities.
- You can gain insight into the kinds of topics and concerns you might face in a potential job interview, and improve your interviewing skills.
- You can get feedback on your relative strengths and weaknesses, and learn industry jargon.
- You can expand your network, gather more valuable information, and learn of possible job opportunities.
- This type of interviewing is usually acceptable after your first two-to-three months in business School. By December you should be more comfortable and able to have in-depth conversations with your contacts.
Try to schedule several meetings in person because putting a face with a name can be as powerful as the questions you ask. For example, I traveled to New York City five times from Bloomington, Indiana, during the first semester in B-School. This worked in my favor, as recruiters acknowledged the extra effort and cost associated with these trips. My willingness to travel allowed me to get more face time than some of my friends who were attending schools within walking distance of Wall Street.
Make sure if you are visiting someone’s office to dress as you would for a job interview. If you are meeting someone for coffee, use common sense, and dress to match. Specifically, if you are in New York, Chicago, or San Francisco and meeting a banker for coffee, I recommend wearing your interview suit. Also, offer to pay for the coffee. It’s a nice gesture. Chances are they won’t let you pay, but you should offer anyway.
When you are setting up your informational interview, make sure to find out with whom you will be meeting and their position or title. Google the interviewer to find out more information on him or her, including recent articles, or announcements of their latest business deals. This could help you develop a more targeted list of questions.
If you want to make a good impression, you need to have a solid grasp of the following:
- Organization — Know the names of the key people and their titles, products, industries, recent deals, and the culture.
- Questions — Have them ready (take a page from the trial lawyer handbook and know the answer – for the most part, to any question you ask); make sure you understand the jargon .
- Group(s) — Which one do you want to work in? Why you are passionate about the firm and a particular position? (Rehearse your story and elevator pitch; your answer to “Why banking?” should flow by this point.)
Bottom line: You want to be able to demonstrate a familiarity with the company’s activities, and with the current issues facing that sector (this will also keep the conversation going).
Ultimately, you are trying to impress them enough so that they will continue to refer you to others within the firm. You want as many VP’s and MD’s as possible pounding on the table and reciting your name when the company puts together their interview list (the “A” list). This typically occurs sometime in January.
Finally, when requesting an informational interview, make sure to tell your contact right away that you would like to learn more about their industry or firm, and that you will be the one asking all the questions. Most people won’t feel offended (especially once you assure them that you are not asking for a job), and will usually be more inclined to help.
If you tell a contact that you want advice, mean it. Also, unless specifically requested, sending your resume to someone you would like to meet for an informational interview will probably give the wrong impression. Have your resume handy, in case they ask for it, and be ready to talk about your past experience, if necessary.
All that said, I encourage you all this summer to begin the process early, instead of waiting until school starts. If you would like additional tips to help you prepare for technical interviews, I encourage you to visit www.bankingorbust.com.