We recorded a podcast (#32) on this topic, but I think it’s handy to have a written guide for this kind of information as well.
So here you have it: the Geek Girls Guide to a kickass informational interview.
- It’s totally appropriate to use Twitter (or a message via LinkedIn) to make yourself known to a professional that you’d like to have an informational interview — in fact, that’s sometimes the best way to stand out. But follow up with a more formal email if they bite on your offer via Twitter.
- Email is also a good option, but it can sometimes be hard to get a response (depending on how much email the person gets).
- Want to really stand out? Try snail mail; people don’t get much actual mail anymore.
- Be clear about what you want. “Will you have coffee with me?” could mean a lot of things. Do you want to be friends? Are you asking me on a date? Ask for what you want — and not just an “informational interview.” Say something more specific, “I’d like to learn more about project management.” or, “I’m looking for input on my portfolio.”
- Ask for 30 minutes. Getting an hour of someone’s time might be a challenge. But, if you can get an hour…sweet!
- If you can get the person to meet you offsite, do it! They’ll be less likely to be interrupted by co-workers. To that end, if you shoot for a meeting at the beginning of the day the person is less likely to be distracted by the day’s work.
- Confirm the meeting a day or two before. Don’t be discouraged or deterred if the person has to reschedule; it happens.
Do Your Homework
- In an informational interview, YOU are interviewing the person you’re meeting with. In a job interview, THEY are interviewing you. So, prepare!
- Google the living hell out of the person you are interviewing with, and the company the work for. Don’t be creepy, but dig deep. The more you know about what they do and how they got there, the more you can ask questions that are relevant and thoughtful. It may even reveal connections or common interests you weren’t aware of!
Show Up Early
- If you are meeting someone for coffee, get there an hour early. I’m not joking. You want to be the first one there, so you can buy the person their cup of coffee. This is a critical piece of etiquette! Even if the person refuses your offer to pay — at least you’ve made the offer.
- If you’re meeting someone at their office, try to be 10 minutes early. That’s early enough to show you’re serious, not so early that it’s awkward. It also doesn’t cut it too close; you want time to take off your coat and organize your thoughts. Whatever you do, don’t be late.
- Play it safe. Assume that the route to your destination will take you twice as long as it usually does. If that means you end up sitting in your car a block away for 20 minutes just to kill time before the interview, so be it.
Have an Agenda
- Have a list of questions that you want to ask the person. And not generic questions, either. Be thoughtful; you’ll make an impression.
- Bringing a notebook and pen is an easy way to make it clear that you take the interview seriously.
- Watch the clock: if the person agreed to give you 30 minutes and the conversation is still rolling along at 28 minutes, give a courtesy time check. “Do you need to go, or would it be okay if I asked you just one more question?” or, “I don’t want to take too much of your time, and I see our 30 minutes is nearly up.” You can set your phone to vibrate when there are 5 minutes left so that you know it’s time to start closing the conversation.
- Thank the person for their time.
- If you got something helpful out of the conversation, tell them.
- Hand them a business card.
- A tweet, an email, a paper thank you note? I’d recommend all three! Include a business card with your thank you note, too — why not?
- It’s okay to try to connect with the person via LinkedIn afterward, but include a personal message, “Thanks for the informational interview on Monday. Your advice about project management was really helpful to me. I’d like to keep in touch, do you mind if we connect here on LinkedIn?”
- I’d advise against trying to friend the person on Facebook; that just feels too personal. Twitter and LinkedIn are a better bet for staying connected to someone you’d like to stay connected with as a mentor and possible future boss!
That’s it! What do you think? Did I miss any critical informational interview advice?