Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Informational Interview, Part II

Requesting an Interview in Person or by Phone

Bankers who grant informational interviews are generally willing to share 20-30 minutes of their time to explain their expertise in their field. Remember to be flexible in your scheduling, bankers are usually busy throughout the day. I found the best time to schedule meetings was between 5-9pm. If your prospective interviewee seems too busy to talk to you, ask a convenient time when you could call back to discuss scheduling an appointment.

Although there are many techniques to requesting the informational interview, the following are good approaches I used:

  • "Hello, my name is ____. I’m conducting career research in your field. I would like to meet and talk with you for about 30 minutes so that I can find out more about your field of expertise."
  • "Hi, my name is ____ and I’m a student at ___ University. I got your name from ____. You’re in a line of work that I’m interested in, and I was hoping that you could help me gain insights into the profession. I’m sure that my questions could be answered in a 20-30-minute informational interview."
  • If you prefer to arrange an appointment in person, recruiters (HR) are your best resource. They hold the key to getting inside the unit or section of that organization, if you do not already have an inside contact or referral. Ask them some of your questions. You will usually get good information. Recruiters know how things work, the names of key people, job requirements, etc. It is important that they understand what you want. If you ask them something that they feel could be more fully answered by someone else, they will usually give you a referral.
  • You can use your own creativity, but the most important thing is to emphasize that you are simply trying to get first-hand information, and whatever they share with you will be appreciated.

Most of the time, your prospective interviewee will be more than willing to take 20-30 minutes to answer your questions. Sometimes the person will want to talk over the phone, but often he or she will invite you to his or her workplace. When you can, schedule the interview at their workplace because you’ll learn more and make a stronger connection with the person.

Within a day, follow up with a short note expressing appreciation for the opportunity to meet, if possible, remarking on your continued interest, preferably with reference to something specific discussed in the meeting. This can also be a point to remind the banker about a referral you had requested.

A word of caution: Scheduling informational interviews early (June through Sept) has pluses and minuses. On the plus side, you begin to improve your network, knowledge, and ability to articulate your story that much sooner. On the minus side, those early contacts may have a harder time remembering who you are come December (remember the “A-List” in Part I). That said, I would follow up again with a second informational request closer to November and December. Just make sure not to ask the same questions over again. This would be the time to impress them and show what you have learned since your last conversation.

At the end of your informational, do not miss the opportunity to expand your network. Ask for a referral. If things went well, it is usually okay to say, “Is there someone else in your group you can refer me to?” or “Can you introduce me to X in Z group?” This simple move can unlock many doors.

Additional Tips and Resources

If your cell phone contract is almost up, or if you are thinking about upgrading your phone, invest in a Blackberry. It can be a time-saver. Sometimes your meetings need to get pushed up or down, or someone who wasn’t available beforehand, now has a 30-minute window to meet with you. Your Blackberry will make sure you don’t miss a beat.

Once you invest in a Blackberry, it’s usually not a good idea to write long emails to bankers. As a rule of thumb, if you have to scroll down to read your email on a Blackberry, your message is too long. Either way, get comfortable with the idea of never getting replies from bankers, or having to follow up several times just to schedule a meeting.

In Summary

Be prepared

  • Research and understand yourself (the best answer, not the first answer)

  • Be prepared to talk about everything on your resume

  • Do a mock interview

  • Understand the industry, company and job

Differentiate yourself from the rest of the candidates

  • Do so through stories and accomplishments

  • “Bullet-point” the answers to the questions, dig into the back of your mind

  • Ask good questions (Banking Tidbits, Part 2)

Make good first impressions

  • Dress professionally and appropriately

  • Travel light

  • Be on time!

  • Bring extra copies of your resumes, paper, pen and handkerchief

Most interviewers make their mind up within the first three minutes of the interview

  • Good eye contact

  • Warm smile

  • Firm hand shake

  • Good posture

  • Relaxed and confident
Show enthusiasm and focus

  • Focus on the positive

  • Think before you speak
  • Know what you want to get across and then do it. Memorize points, not passages. It makes your answer linear and you know how and when to end. The inability to end an answer can be fatal.

  • Maintain a sense of humor

Don’t forget to

  • Turn off your cell phone

  • Turn the interview into a conversation

  • Get across your main points before you leave the room

  • Write out questions you want to ask in advance

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