To get ahead in any business, you need to network. One of the keys to networking is to approach the people in your business whose career trajectories you admire. Most people are happy to “pay it forward,” and are willing to share their experiences with younger people.
In these cases, you want to ask for an informational interview, one where you ask questions of someone whose career you’re interested in.
So who should you approach? People who graduated from your college are usually really happy to share their knowledge of the field. Does your college have a networking website where you can reach out? You can also find these people on LinkedIn, or maybe via an on-campus alumni office.
Those who are in positions at your dream company are also great resources, although they may not say yes right away because they’re busy and don’t know you.
And never forget the “little” people — the interns at your dream company and the students at your school who are doing cool things. These are the ones who, although they may not have as much to tell you as a CEO or other executive, will be the most happy to help you.
So how do you approach them? Send an email. Introduce yourself, being sure to include any details that would make the reader feel a connection to you, and be flattering. Say why you’re emailing — that you’d like the opportunity to pick his or her brain — and be sure that you say it will be brief. Offer to meet them on their turf — at their office or a coffee shop nearby. It’s a nice gesture to buy them coffee. If you don’t hear back, send a follow-up email in a week or two. Hopefully, you’ll get a response.
So how should you prepare? If you get a “yes,” you should do your homework before the meeting. Read their resume or find whatever you can about them, and their company. Prepare some questions so you’ll feel at ease at the interview. Also, make sure to have a paper copy of your resume ready.
So what do you do when you’re there? Ask if you can take notes, and take good ones. When you’ve asked all of your questions, ask them if they know of others in the business or company who would be good resources. Show him or her a copy of your resume and ask them to give you notes on its appearance. Is there anything that would make you a more attractive candidate?
Most importantly, keep in touch afterward! Every two or three months, email to check in. Ask how they’re doing, see if perhaps they’ve got internships opening up. Informational interviews do not always, but can, end in your getting a job.
And now you know all about the informational interview.