3 Ways to Find People for Informational Interviews

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It seemed like fate—I had just read an article describing the rustic, birdhouse-inspired design at Twitter and then I received an email from my graduate school informing me of an upcoming alumni event that would be held at the Runway startup accelerator space in the same building.

I went to grad school at the University of Bath in the UK, so it’s especially interesting to go to Bay Area alumni events because I love to hear about why Americans chose to go to school there, why Brits ended up living here, and all sorts of other interesting tales of international and multicultural lives.

So there I was in the Twitter building on my way to hear some current Bath students talk about an app they designed, stuff my face with bite-sized food, and possibly make some professional connections. I was a little surprised by what happened next, although really I shouldn’t have been.

In previous posts, we’ve talked about the importance networking, job shadowing, and informational interviewing, but are you still wondering how you can actually find people to do these things with? Here are three real-life examples of tactics that have worked for me.

1. Alumni networking events

As I mentioned above, I recently attended a University of Bath alumni event in the Bay Area. It was a relatively small group of people—maybe around 20 or so—which made it easy to have pretty in-depth conversations.

I started talking with a current student who was doing an internship here in the US. When I gave him my card, which had my title of “Content Marketing Manager” on it, he asked how big my department was. I told him that it was just me and Kellen and that when we had a summer intern we’d have a grand total of three people on our team. He then said, “Oh, well, the company where I’m working has about 17 people on the content marketing team, so if you’d like to talk with any of them, I’d be happy to introduce you.”

Yep, that’s right—I didn’t ask to be introduced to anyone. I wasn’t even thinking about that at the time. It was totally the student’s idea. How cool is that??

He didn’t have a business card, but he gave me his email address. The day after the event I sent him a quick note to remind him who I was and let him know that I was definitely interested in taking him up on his offer. He then sent an email intro to the head of his company’s content marketing department, and she was open to the idea, so we set up a time for an interview.

2. Through people you are already interviewing

As my interview with the content marketing manager I met through the Bath student was drawing to a close, I took a quick glance at my notes to make sure we’d covered everything I wanted to. Then I simply asked her if there was anyone else she could connect me with. She put me in touch with her old mentor, and I ended up interviewing her as well. Success!

In the words of one of the greatest writers of our time, Carrie Bradshaw, “all it takes to get a date… is another date.” This philosophy holds for informational interviews, too!

Towards the end of any interview, be sure to ask the person if they have any recommended resources for learning more about the topic you’re discussing—and whether they can introduce you to anyone else to interview.

I think this is an especially good technique because it shows the person you’re interviewing that you valued their opinion and validates the time that they gave up to speak with you. And it also gives you the option to meet someone new and continue your learning journey!

3. Your existing personal/professional connections

In one of my regular meetings with my manager, I happened to mention something I’d learned from one of my informational interviews. He was pretty jazzed about the idea and said he’d see if he had any content marketing contacts in his network. And that’s how I found yet another person to interview!

I can’t stress this point enough—there’s really no better place to start than with people you already know. Let your family, friends, and professors know what type of person you’re trying to get connected with and ask them if they know anyone who does that job, works in that industry, or knows someone else who does.

You can also post a short note on Facebook, LinkedIn, or whatever social media platform you’re most active on. Something along the lines of “Hey friends! I’m really interested in meeting people who work as UX designers. Do you know anyone who might be willing to talk to me? Thanks!” Obviously feel free to rewrite this in your own voice, but you get the idea.

I think there are a few lessons to be learned from my experiences:

  • If you’re still a student, you should realize that you have plenty to offer at networking events. When you talk to people, find out what they’re doing or what kind of person they’re hoping to be connected to. You might not have a lot of professional experience, but you can still help people by introducing them to your contacts from your current or past internships, jobs, or volunteer work. Don’t hesitate to think of yourself as a connector or someone who can help people.
  • When you go to a networking event, try to keep an open mind. You really never know what kind of connection you’ll make, so just try to be friendly and helpful. I wasn’t necessarily looking for people to do informational interviews with, but I jumped on the opportunity when it was presented to me.
  • Following up is important. I could have just waited to see if the student would remember our conversation and try to put me in touch with his coworker, but who knows if that would have happened? And once he sent me the introduction email, I could have waited for his coworker to contact me, but again I chose to be proactive and email her. And, of course, I was sure to send them both thank you emails afterwards to let them know how much I appreciated the introduction and how much I got out of the conversation.
  • If you’re currently employed and you’re conducting informational interviews, you’ll need to decide if this is something that you want to share with your manager or keep to yourself. In my case, I know that my company is all about education and they like the fact that I’m taking initiative to learn more about my industry. But other companies might interpret this behavior as a signal that you’re looking for a new job and feel threatened if you tell them you’re doing informational interviews. You’ll have to observe the environment at your company and make that decision for yourself.

Now you’ve got some ideas for how to find people to conduct informational interviews with—go out there and get it done!

Homework time! If you’re still looking for advice on all other aspects of the informational interview, we’ve got you covered. Check out the rest of our informational interview content here on the AfterCollege Blog.

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