January 6, 2017

Five tips for your next informational interview

Rebecca San Juan ’17

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Wondering whether a certain career or organization might be the right fit for you? An informational interview with an experienced professional can give you an insider’s perspective.

In order to get the chance to talk to someone on the inside, you may need to make a cold call (a dying art), send an email or be referred by someone you know. You could reach out to a family or neighborhood connection. Or you could seek out a Mount Holyoke alum, a College conference or panel attendee, or someone you heard about through a professor. Think “six degrees of separation” from MHC and the possibilities are nearly endless!

Students during the Laurel Chain parade 2016

Once you’ve lined up an informational interview, here are a few dos and don’ts to help you make a great impression and to get the most out of it. But first, remember this cardinal rule: Never ask for a job. Ever.

1. Relax. It’s just a conversation!

No pressure. Seriously. Leave the elevator pitch in the elevator. You already have the person’s attention. Give a simple introduction, explaining why you’re interested in their work and company, and jump into your prepared questions. Which leads us to ...   

2. Dazzle your subject with your research.

Study the organization’s website in advance. Jot down notes on the company and about your subject, and review them carefully so you are fluent in the pertinent details. Note: This is where LinkedIn and a quick Google search are helpful.

Ask questions that show you did your homework and that get the conversation flowing: “After you graduated from X, I see that you worked for Y. How did you learn about the opportunity? Were there skills or experiences that helped prepare you?” Both rookies and those in senior positions could answer these types of questions.

A conversation in the Art Museum

3. Adapt your questions to reflect the professional’s unique experiences.

Those just getting into the game can provide fresh knowledge of the market landscape. For example, a recent Mount Holyoke grad working at the Daily Mail newspaper told me what her job search a few weeks out of college was like and how she determined which companies were growing and hiring.

On the other hand, a seasoned editor in chief told me about her experience in New York City years ago and what she thinks she could have done differently.  

4. Really listen.

Take notes as the professional is talking so you can review them later and follow up on recommended steps. Ask for their perspective on how to target your resume and cover letter to the industry. Also ask industry-specific questions, such as whether work samples belong on LinkedIn or on your own website.

Always end the discussion with the following two questions: “Is there anyone you suggest that I speak with?” Then, after thanking the person for their time, ask, “Is there anything that I can do for you?” Don’t underestimate the potential value of your insights, perspective, experiences, interests and connections.

Detail of an open laptop and notebook, plus a pen

5. Follow up with a genuine personalized thank you note.* And stay in touch.

Relationships forged through informational interviews may lead to mentorship. They may also help you later on in your career — or you them. And remember, networking is not just who you know but who they know as well.

*Email is 100-percent acceptable. A handwritten note through the regular mail can be a nice extra gesture. And it’s fine to do both: The email connects immediately and the follow-up handwritten note reiterates your thanks with a personal touch.

Need more tips about informational interviewing?

For personal advice, make an appointment with the Career Development Center (CDC) by calling 1-413-538-2080 any time of the year.

During the academic year, the CDC also offers walk-in advising at the CDC from 2 to 4:30 p.m., Monday – Friday, and at the MEWS from 10 a.m. to noon on Friday.

Tip your future in your favor. Learn More 

Rebecca San Juan ’17, a native of Miami, is an experiential journalist for the Career Development Center. She writes about students’ work experiences on campus. As a bilingual journalist, San Juan has experience contributing to several Spanish- and English-speaking newsrooms. While on campus, she pursues a double major in history and politics with a Nexus concentration in journalism, media and public discourse. As a recipient of the Almara Grant, San Juan studies the representation of dissidents imprisoned in Cuba’s Military Units to Aid Production forced-labor camps.
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