Networking doesn’t need to feel like a threat. Here are tips on turning an informational interview into a real one.
Unfortunately, clicking “apply now” isn’t always enough. Even after searching online for hours and finding your dream gig, you still need someone to read your application. Another bummer? Most resumes are swept for keywords and sorted into piles long before they reach a recruiter’s desk. And while there are plenty of things you can do to make yours stand out (add a splash of color, throw in some icons, etc.), nothing competes with a human connection. As the saying goes, it’s not what you know but who you know.
Enter the informational interview. Perhaps the only thing more intimidating than an actual interview. Networking in a group setting is one thing, but it’s easy to stumble when you’re setting up a tour or grabbing a quick cup of coffee one-on-one. Luckily, we’ve been there once or twice, and we’ve got a couple of tricks up our sleeves. Cue the confetti!
- Respect their time. First things first, the person you’re meeting with is doing you a favor. Try to pick the time and location that’s most convenient for them, and don’t keep them longer than what you’ve agreed to. If you’re meeting up for coffee, offer to pay—odds are, they won’t take you up on it, but they’ll appreciate that you asked.
- Come prepared with questions. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it certainly saved the informational interview. You don’t need to go full 60 Minutes, but a shortlist of questions shows that you’re genuinely interested and want to connect over their work. Plus, it can also help with any awkward conversation lulls.
- Do a little research. Yes, you’re here to learn, but it pays to know a bit about who you’re talking to. Before you meet up, get familiar with their accomplishments and develop your own opinions on their work. It’s not only a sign of respect, but it will give you plenty of conversation ideas if you find you’ve run out of things to talk about.
- Reimagine the coffee date. There’s absolutely zero shame in meeting up over a couple of espressos, but it can start to feel repetitive after you’ve been out 3+ times in one week. Can you turn your café convo into a walk? Could you meet for appetizers or a quick drink instead? By choosing a slightly different (though still professional) route, you can make sure that your meeting is as memorable as possible, sans caffeine jitters.
- It’s okay to be nervous. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be an extrovert to be a networking maestro. Meeting any new person is intimidating, especially when it’s someone whose work you admire. But if they’ve agreed to chat with you, they’re probably expecting that you’re looking for advice—and they’ll likely be willing to help. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t have it all figured out. That’s why you reached out in the first place.
- You be you. This person barely knows you. So there’s no need to morph into what you think they want you to be. Remember, you carry value! The insight you provide could inspire their next big idea. You’re not the only one getting something from this conversation: they’re learning from you, too.
Networking over an informational interview or coffee conversation doesn’t have to be daunting. Do your prep, stay curious about the other person, and find confidence within yourself. You’ll likely land some strong career connections—and maybe even a new job.