Tuesday, July 19, 2011

3 Ways to Rock Informational Interviews

Hey there, fellow Edsters!

I’m getting ready to enter the second half of my internship, and it’s crazy to think I only have a month left in New York. I’ve really grown to love working at my office and can’t imagine (nor really want to) that soon enough I’ll be back at college in classes. New York is such a tease for life after graduation, but I know I’ll be back soon enough, tackling another internship and someday a job (at least I hope!).

With a month to go, what has become really important to me is taking the opportunity to network with people across the industry. Because I’ve been told so many jobs are word-of-mouth, I feel it’s especially important to start building your network early. And the advantage of being in New York to do that? You can have in-person meetings as opposed to phone interviews. The people you meet will put a face to your voice, which sets a great foundation for when you follow up through email, phone and eventually meet again.

But the appeal of informational interviews goes beyond building a network: hearing the stories of how others broke into the industry is so inspiring. Everyone has their own way to New York, but one element unites all their stories: a bit of luck. It’s reassuring to see the different paths everyone has taken because ultimately, mine and yours will be one-of-a-kind too. Same destination, different journey.

So what makes informational interviews difficult when working here? The time limit. Example: the other week, I had an informational interview set during my lunch hour at a different corporation. I factored in 15 minutes for travel when I scheduled a time with the editor, but that still didn’t help me when the trains ran slower than I thought, and I ended up having trouble flagging down the building when I got down there. I was a little late, but the meeting went fine. It was like every other informational interview I had — only set to a ticking clock and the back-thought that I had to get back to work and depending on the train, it would take me 15 minutes or more to do so. Half of my lunch break would be travel; the other half interview.

So how to make the most of the little time you have? I have found three things really helped me:

1) Have questions planned in advance. This is the biggest. Before I went on my interview, I had a sticky note with points I wanted to ask about. That helped me use my time to my advantage and get the most out of my meeting.

2) Have your resume on hand. Instead of having to explain all you’ve done, having a resume to give the person you meet — a visual map — will allow them to just skim your experience quickly as you guide them through the main points (“I interned at X, Y and Z). The less time you talk, the more time they can about their story and advice they have for you.

3) Plan on having a follow-up. Know it’s OK not to talk about everything you’d like during your first informational with this person — in fact, it may be even smart to save some questions for an e-mail or phone follow-up. Relationships shouldn’t end after your informational interview – that first in-person meeting should just be the beginning. I always make a point to send an immediate thank-you email after I leave an interview, for example. Correspondence should never end at good-bye there. So check back on occasion with the people you talk with — send them updates. Though next summer’s far away, it’s never too early to start thinking about next year’s internship and using the people you meet now to help you find and apply for them.

So what do you think, Edsters? How would you approach an interview when time is short? And what tips do you have for writing great follow-ups?

Wishing you the best always! XOXO,
Women’s Mag Intern

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