The Informational Interview Is Actually a Thing You Should Do, Yes
The Harvard Business Review has a feature called THE MANAGEMENT TIP, which is: management tips. I like these tips because they are short and totally digestible, and reading through a half dozen of them feels like at least the equivalent of half an MBA.
ANYWAY I have something to say about today’s hot tip (Today’s hot tip: “Explore a new career with an informational interview”) and that is: GREAT TIP. Really great tip. Though: There was a time in my life when I would have been like, “Yeah that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard, no one does that. Ring Ring. ‘Can I have an informational interview?’ I’d rather die.”
BUT I HAVE LEARNED that the secret to the informational interview is: You don’t call it an informational interview. What it really is: Being curious and reaching out to strangers. That’s it.
HERE ARE FOUR TIMES I’VE DONE IT:
1. I emailed an old boss to ask him to introduce me to his colleague because I thought she did dope work. He wrote an intro email. I replied to the intro email thanking him for the intro and asking his colleague a question, which was: How can I do what you do? Here’s the email, with specifics removed (TOP SECRET).
I understand how busy you are, and I thank you reading this. This is what I do now, but I’m really interested in learning more about this other thing and developing my skills there. I admire your work in the field because of this specific reason that I’m going to give right now.
Here’s a sentence or two to show you that I actually have done some research and have some knowledge in this field and am not just going to waste your time by asking you questions I could learn from your Twitter bio.
I suppose what I’d love would be a quick phone call during which we could talk about your work and experiences so I can try to emulate the work that you do! Thanks so much, Logan
Okay so this is actually not even the best email. I’m reading it now and am kind of grossed out by it. In fact it’s kind of a bore—”emulate the work that you do,” ha, that’s dumb. But it worked, so I think maybe the point is … it doesn’t have to be the best email. It just has to be short and sincere. Sometimes you will not get a response. I did on this one, and we had a phone call, and I learned all about the industry, most importantly that it’s FIVE THOUSAND TIMES HARDER than she makes it look. If I didn’t get a response I’d maybe follow-up once and then move on.
2. I met a woman who had a super, super cool job. The next day (week), I sent her an email saying I loved meeting her and was totally jazzed about the existence of her career and that I’d love to talk to her about how she got where she is if she ever has the time. Time passed. We had a phone call. Time passed. Every now and then I checked in over email. Time passed. She landed a project that required a person JUST LIKE ME, and since I was in her email inbox sometimes, she asked me if I’d like to apply. I said yes and then jumped through one thousand hoops and got the job. I would not say that this is a typical result when you reach out to people, but I would say this is PERHAPS LITERALLY the only way to actually get a job.
3. When people write things that I like, I email them to say: “I really liked that thing you wrote. It made me think and/or feel things. Good job.” I don’t always do this, but sometimes I do this. This is a great thing to do. People love a compliment, especially a thoughtful one, and once you do this one or two times, you can maybe add a question onto your compliment. “I loved this thing you did for this reason. You do such good work, and I’d love to do the kinds of things you do someday. I know you started at this whatever tiny publication, but how did you jump to this bigger better publication? Would love any hot tips you have on furthering my career.”
OR WHATEVER. I mean, here’s the deal, the answer is never, ever going to be some secret. It’s always like, yeah, work hard and work a lot and also have some luck and be nice to people and maybe eventually you’ll get a break and there’s no one path, man. But the more people you know the better, and not just in like, a use-y way, but in a real, actual way: There are no downsides to knowing more people.
4. Okay this other time I found this writer that wrote about this one topic in a very interesting way that I hadn’t seen anyone write about that topic before, and so I reached out to him and was like, HEY. YOUR WORK IS GREAT. I NOTICE THAT YOU ARE IN MY CITY THAT YOU DON’T LIVE IN FOR THE WEEK. CAN I BUY YOU A COFFEE? Usually I would say, don’t ever ask people you don’t know to get coffee with you but since this person didn’t live in town I felt like I had kind of the upper hand a little bit, like, OH LOOK AT ME, NATIVE OF CITY, BEING KIND. And I had really specific questions. It worked out. We are not best friends or getting married. He is also not my mentor or boss. Actually I stopped following him on Twitter after we met. But: We met. And I learned some things about how careers work, and that is: Being a super genius with lots of money really, really helps.
1. Don’t ask for an informational interview. Ask for a few minutes of their time on the phone or over email or whatever. Nobody wants to meet you in person. Don’t even ask.
2. Don’t just be like, how did you get where you are today? That’s a bore. Also, do your research.
3. Have a specific-ish question.
4. Be nice to everyone.
5. Humans give other humans jobs and gigs and opportunities. THEREFORE, in order to get jobs and gigs and opportunities, it makes sense to try to know as many humans as possible.
6. It’s okay to be awkward. It’s pretty hard not to be awkward when reaching out to people you don’t know. Just go with it. And don’t make any dumb jokes in your intro email. One dumb joke, max. Maybe two. That’s it.