There is no better way to learn about a job than to ask someone living the role day-to-day. Informational interviews are becoming increasingly popular for students and young professionals to conduct. An individual may set up an informational interview with a current employee to gain knowledge about a career field, learn more about their specific company, or to build their network. Informational interviews are especially important in the advertising space because they give light to the agency culture, provide insight on their various clients and typical projects, and help you network in your specific agency market.
It is important to note that informational interviews are strictly, well, informational. They are not a job interview or job promise, but they are a research tool manifested in an informal conversation with a professional in the field. While company websites can be detailed with content like their work or company values, informational interviews can provide a true insider view like no other research format can. Below are the four things you should do to get the most out of an informational interview.
1. Do Your Research
Informational interviews are a great research tool to learn about an industry, but it should not be the preliminary research. First, it’s important to dig deep into the company’s website and social media before you meet. It would be a waste of everyone’s time if the interviewer was asking questions that are clearly answered already on their site. This shows that you value the meeting enough to take the time and energy to do prep work beforehand. Also, it is vital to do research on the person that you’re meeting with. This can help you get passed surface level conversations quickly and direct conversation to meaningful takeaways.
2. Find the Right Person
Cold emailing an employee at an agency and asking them take time out of their day can be a big ask. It’s important to craft a message that makes the reader feel valued and that you admire what they do as a company. Finding the right person means reaching out to someone with a job title that you are potentially interested in. Some websites have all the employees listed and even their email addresses which you can use to reach out. If only their names are on the website, try to find them on LinkedIn and message them there. Once you have their contact information, send them an email starting with who you are and ending with your request.
One important tip is to keep this email short; especially in advertising, individuals receive hundreds of emails in a day and it would be a shame to have yours lost because the sheer number of words make the reader put it aside.
Along those lines, make your “ask” clear. Do you want to take them out to lunch/coffee? Do you want to schedule a phone-call? Whatever style you chose, make sure to do all the planning, so all they need to do is show up. Scheduling 30 minutes for an informational interview is a good rule of thumb. While the scheduling part may feel daunting, a lot of people are surprised by how many professionals are willing to take time out of their day to help and share their experience. More than likely someone helped them in their career, and many will jump at the chance to give back.
Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. This is an extension of doing your research. Remember that you are the one leading the meeting and it is up to you to drive the conversation. Being prepared for an informational interview is essential to ensuring that you achieve your learning goal and maximize everyone’s time. Bringing a list of thoughtful questions is one of the best ways capitalize on the opportunity. Here is an example of some questions that you could bring:
- What are your day-to-day responsibilities as an [insert job title]?
- What is your favorite part of your job?
- What is your least favorite part of your job?
- What is the reporting structure of your organization?
- What are the most important skills to have in your role?
- What steps would you recommend someone takes to enter this field?
- What does success look like for an [insert position title]?
- Do you have a book or podcast recommendation that has impacted your work?
Don’t forget a notebook and pen to jot down their insights. Keeping engaged by writing down points that stand out to you will help you remember their valuable wisdom and show the interviewee that you care about what they’re sharing.
Finally, prepare an action item. While it can’t be stressed enough that informational interviews are just for learning, there is flexibility in asking for a small next step. For example, you can ask them to give you feedback on your resume, introduce you to someone else in the organization, or connect with you on LinkedIn. This can help build and continue the relationship that you just started.
Make sure to thank the employee that took time out of their day to meet with you within 24 hours of meeting. This is not just common courtesy, but this is a great way to stick in their mind if future employment may be something that you are desiring. Sending a thank you note in the mail can also take your follow up to the next level.
There is no such thing as wasted time when it comes to setting up and conducting informational interviews. In my search, there were a handful of organizations that I was very excited to learn more about, but after doing an informational interview I could just tell that it wouldn’t be a good fit in an organization or role like the one I was inquiring about. Instead of thinking of the time spent preparing and conducting the interview as a waste, I truly saw it as a time-saver. It was helping me get closer and closer to the place that I do want to devote my time and energy.
In my informational interview process, I did some self-reflection and realized that I value a “work hard, play hard” culture. Especially in advertising, culture is something you can’t fully gleam from a website or the agency social media. Right when I walked in the doors of Zion & Zion, it was clear that the employees didn’t mess around. They took their day work seriously, but in the interview, I heard more about the activities that the agency participates in together. I valued the balance of true hard work with the family-like atmosphere, genuine care for one another, and a desire to have fun.
Using informational interviews as a tool will have benefits far beyond your knowledge. I hope doing informational interviews gets you one step closer to finding a role and organization that fits your career goals.