When you are a student sometimes the idea of having a career is abstract. You rightfully focus on the mundane day-to-day of handing in papers, cramming for tests and honing your Wii skills. You know the important stuff. But truthfully all these tests and class projects should ideally lead to a rich and rewarding profession; one that is challenging yet somehow leaves you fulfilled.
But what if you land that dream job and what you imagined would be the perfect match somehow isn’t? Well. Most likely this won’t be the case, but it can’t hurt to investigate right? Being a student can give you an excuse for access, a chance to meet with professionals and ask them about their livelihood. How did they get involved? What is their typical day like? This is the foundation of what is known in the business as an informational interview, a one-on-one conversation with someone doing what you might one day hope to. But before you dive in headfirst into an informational interview there are some guidelines and expectations you should be mindful of.
Do Your Research One of the most common mistakes you can make is cold-calling various companies without doing any research. How large is the business? What do they do? Who are their clients? Even more importantly if you have actually gotten yourself an interview be sure to be familiar with your subject. Spend some time online and you’d be surprised what you can find out. Being prepared will not only make you look better it will also give you something to talk about.
Don’t Ask For A Job This is a huge mistake. The idea of an informational interview is that you are talking to this professional about their experiences so you can best assess if you are interested in pursuing that career path. To ask for a job betrays that trust and will get the door closed as quickly as it might have opened. That being said the Internet tells us that,“1 in 12 informational interviews yields a job offer.” This should never be banked on but goes to show how valuable Informational Interviews can be as a networking tool.
Be Professional So while these interviews might be less overt than a more typical job screening, you should treat the opportunity as professionally as possible. Dress up. Take a shower. Brush your teeth. Be respectful of the subject’s time. Remember while this might not be job yielding you never know what other opportunities might pop up in the future. All industries, especially creative industries, are closely knit.
Be Patient Like the entire career process, Informational Interviews can take time. You might not get an interview with your first choice. There is a fine line between persistence and pestering. If one person has difficulty finding the time to meet, be gracious and move on. If you do get to interview someone it is immensely important that you follow up with a simple thank you card. This gives you another opportunity to leave a good impression.
When well exercised an informational interview is a tremendous resource. It can give you intimate insight to what a career path might be for you. You can garner a first hand account and impression of an industry before embarking.
If you have any further questions about informational interviews please feel free to reach out to your Creative Industry Liaison at the Portfolio Center.