We’ve all got (and sent those e-mails.) “Can I have a few minutes of your time to talk about your career?” At some point, we’ve all had to do an informational interview.
Earlier this year, I blogged about how I was able to effectively respond to 95% of the informational interview requests that came my way. I truly enjoy as it serves as a great way to connect with others and share information. I might be going out on a limb here, but I’ve been told as well that I’m usually pretty helpful in these conversations, so that makes me feel good too.
Lately, I’ve had a handful of disappointing experiences talking with students, professionals around these career conversations, which frustrates me because I do think they are important. Without turning this into a rant or a complaint, I want to share some feedback for others to hopefully help guide others who are looking to reach out to people in their network for informational interviews. I know I am not alone in this, so I hope this is useful.
First and foremost, show up – I’ve had multiple situations where someone reached out to connect with me and we setup time to chat, only to have them no-show on me. People forget and make mistakes – That happens, and is part of life. But think about the impression that you leave on someone when you no show on them, especially if you end up applying to a position at the company or school.
Have a purpose – I’ve had a few conversations with people who did show up but that was it. They seemed to treat the conversation as a formality or as part of their checklist of things that they needed to do. It was almost as if they had either been told that they needed to do informational interviews and they never understood why and just started emailing people or, they were already so advanced in the interview or admissions process that they were just trying to make sure they covered their bases. Obviously, you wouldn’t be asking for their help if you weren’t trying to learn, so naturally you’re going to ask some elementary questions, but doing some homework and being intentional about what you’re looking for shows your focus and purpose on what you’re trying to achieve. I’m a big believer in action is better than inaction, but remember that while this may serve your needs and wants you are also imposing on someone else’s time, which could be valuable. If you’re going to make a request for someone’s time, make sure it’s got a purpose.
Be Grateful – When someone gives you a half hour of their day to talk to you that means they are giving you some of their time that they could be using on something else. Be mindful and thoughtful of that by ensuring you are making the most of what they are giving you and for what you are asking of them.
Be Flexible – If you want someone to answer and respond to your request, the best way to maximize your efforts is to be as flexible as possible. If you tell them you can only chat from 5-6PM on Mondays, it can be easy for someone to say no if they cannot talk during that time. If you truly want to talk to someone, consider flexing around their availability.
Finally, for those of you that get networking requests, here are some tips that can help you manage them.
Push them out – If you’re short on time, or if you want to weed out your interviews, one suggestion is to push out the request to a later date. Tell the person you’d be happy to speak with them, but perhaps they could follow up in a week or two. This buys you time if you are busy, but it also puts it on the individual to take the initiative to follow up, which can tell you how serious they are about wanting to speak with you.
Make them articulate their purpose – Before you meet with them consider responding and asking them for specific things that you want to discuss. Having them articulate why they want to speak with you can help you tell how serious they are about the conversation. As I said before, they wouldn’t be reaching out to you if they weren’t trying to learn something, so naturally they may not have 100% clarity and that’s okay. But at least getting them to attempt to articulate what they are trying to achieve can help ensure you’re actually the best person to help them out.
Point them to other resources – Because of the Internet, many basic questions can be answered. To make things more efficient and to ensure conversations are worthwhile, consider sending them or pointing them to existing resources so you don’t have to repeat what your company or school’s website already says.
We all make mistakes, we’re all learning how to do this networking and career thing. None of these are the end of the world. Furthermore, part of figuring out your career journey is asking questions and talking to people, so much of this is the cost of doing business.
The 2 biggest takeaways I can try to impart are that when you’re networking with others try to remember that it’s not just about yourself. Finally, when you are talking with others, it means they are giving up some of their time that they could be using on something else, so when you shoot someone an e-mail asking for their time, remember to be thankful for it if they choose to give it to you.