It’s great that you’ve reached out to someone and asked for them to meet you over coffee or in their office to talk about your career interests and their experiences.
As a member of the Jurdu community, you know this is one of the most productive ways to spend your time. But this is only half the battle and you need to make sure you get the absolute most out of every meeting with someone. Below are some tips to help you take advantage of each and every opportunity that comes your way in the form of an informational interview.
During the Informational Interview
Start off by reiterating your appreciation. This simple gesture shows not only that you appreciate their meeting with you but signals to them that you’re courteous and likable, all good things to set things off on the right tone. You can also reiterate how much time they’re scheduled to meet with you and defer to their schedule. Follow their lead as to whether they want some light banter covering some personal back-and-forth, then get right to it. People appreciate when someone not only says they respect their time, but shows it in their actions by getting right to the point.
If they seem in a hurry, don’t read into it, just take that as a signal that you should start covering what you want to cover right off the bat. Some people take a little while to warm up, so just be warm, charming and engaged – they’ll usually come around once the conversation gains a bit of momentum.
Be an active listener. Ask questions and let the other person do most of the talking. The more someone talks in a conversation, the more they tend to enjoy it. Focus on what they’re saying and latch onto anything interesting for you to follow up on.
You may want to take notes. That’s a personal preference and there’s no right answer. Feel out whatever is comfortable for you and allows for a free-flowing, natural conversation. Often note-taking can detract from your ability to actively listen and engage with whomever you’re with.
You should have questions prepared in your head going in, a game plan for what you aim to get out of the conversation, and the most important questions you want to ask. Ask your high priority questions early on, but don’t force it if you’re having a nice conversation on other topics of interest to you. Again, the more natural the conversation can be, the better it will go and the better impression you’ll make, so try to avoid relying on notes (whether on your phone or a piece of paper) throughout. Before you wrap up, you can take a quick look and see if there’s anything crucial you didn’t get to cover.
In addition, whether based on research you’ve prepared in advance or, even better, based off of names that come up naturally in your conversation, ask if they’d mind connecting you with other relevant people in their orbit. When you do reach out, mentioning the person who suggested it is fairly standard practice, but to be extra clear make sure the referring person is okay with it.
Take your cues from who you’re meeting with, but try not to let things go beyond a reasonable time, especially if they seem eager to wrap it up. If they’re happy, engaged and letting the meeting run long, let it. At the end, express your thanks for their time, no matter how much or little, and for sharing their information and knowledge with you. Offer to help any way that you can, particularly if there is a specific opportunity that came up in your conversation. Tell them you’ll be in touch to update them on all that you discussed. This is helpful in getting them more invested in the process and feeling like their time with you was well-spent.
After the Informational Interview
Though you already expressed it clearly (and at least a couple times) at your meeting, follow up with a thank you email or letter (if you’re more old school, or the person you met with is). You should mention how the conversation helped you and which suggestions you are following. They’ll appreciate it.
Reach out to any other connections who came up in your discussion. The sooner, the better for this. Any new connections are likely to reach out to the person with whom you had the initial sit-down, and this can lead to a positive echo chamber where multiple people have you top of mind flowing from the good impression you’ve made with one person.
Be True to Your Word
As you mentioned at the end of your meeting, keep in touch periodically with succinct updates. If you make any moves, like landing a new role internally or finding a new job, definitely find a way to reach back out to let them know and somehow tie it back in some way to your meeting with them. Everyone likes to feel helpful.
In addition, continue to look for ways to send helpful information that connects back to your conversation, like an interesting article on that touches on that hobby they mentioned, and be on the lookout for any way to be helpful to them.
If you’re following this blueprint for successful informational interviews, you’ll be gleaning a lot of helpful information from each and every one. That’s a lot to keep track of. Use a worksheet to help organize your information so you can constantly refer to it and continue to use it in the future. It will also help you make sense of all the information you’re taking in and spot patterns or themes that are crucial to moving you along the right path or allowing you to correct course along the way.
See the Value
It can be hard to schedule these informational interviews and get the most out of them. Each time you’ve connected with someone, appreciate that it’s an accomplishment in and of itself, and will yield benefits to you at some point down the road. Your time is valuable, too, so make sure you follow the above tips to get the most out of every informational coffee date. The more you do them, the more comfortable you’ll be and the more natural these conversations will be.
After your next informational interview, evaluate how well you followed the approach laid out in this article, then think about why it went the way it did and what you’ll do differently next time.