Informational Interviews for Career and Education Selection

It’s too easy for kids to drift through college with no clear direction in life (my hand would go up at age 20, too). Here is a way I know works in helping you meet the right people and make connections that may last a lifetime.

What are your interests for your working life? Where are you from? Where do you want to live? Address your aspirations first, as this will help you refine your networking needs.  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Take a sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle.  Caption the left side as the things You Want in your career and the right side the things You Don’t Want. The left side may have things like: Working closely with people or individually, using computers, surrounded by animals, in a small/big company, teaching, management opportunities, etc.  The right side may have things you don’t want, like: Living in a big city, working big company, analyzing data, selling something, etc. Work on the list over time, show it to people you respect with life experience and ask for their thoughts, go to the career center and the opinion of any counselors there.  Ask what direction you may want to consider based on your wishes outlined on the page.  Don’t worry about your weaknesses.  You can develop the strength you need with your education and the next step below.  This is a process and will take some time and focus, but it will help you prepare to build a targeted network as efficiently as possible.  This was advice from my father, Fred Williamson, Jr.  It is a technique that Benjamin Franklin used.
  1. Start contacting people where you want to live and work, realize that you do not want to talk about what you want, but rather ask to do an informational interview in person (never over the phone) to learn about them. You want to ask successful people for their help. You would like to have 15 minutes of their time (don’t ask for any more than that), so you can pick their brains about their business and history. People are usually willing to help in ways like that, but they don’t want to be asked point blank for a job.  Keep it informational only, and never ask for a job, an internship, or who is hiring right now.
  1. Dress appropriately.  In the meeting (with the right type of person), be respectful of their time. Leave your cell phone in the car.  Here are the questions * to ask as courteously as possible:

– How did you choose your current career path?

– What do you like most about what you do?

– What sets you and your business apart from your competitors?

– What has been the biggest change you’ve seen over the years?

– What is the biggest challenge you face currently?

– What do you see as future trends?

– What advice would you give to someone looking to get into your field / business?

– What type of education would you pursue and where would you go?

– Is there anyone else with whom you feel it would be good for me to speak?

– (If they give you a name) When would be the best time and manner to contact her/him?

* These are questions derived from a book called Endless Referrals by Bob Burg.

  1. Let them ask you about you.  Do not assume you can interject about yourself.  If asked, keep your answers short and to the point.  Be sure to focus only on the positives.  Don’t brag.  Go on to your next question.  When the last question is answered, politely thank them for their time and stand up to leave.  Let them invite you to stay longer if they wish.  It’s perfectly OK to be the one to end the meeting by recognizing how much time they have given you already.
  1. Put a thank you note (nothing fancy) in the mail immediately after the meeting. Have it in your car ready to send, addressed by hand and stamped ahead of time.  Write the note and send it.
  1. Contact anyone recommended to you as the person you interviewed indicated.  Don’t assume the next person will know what you discussed previously.  Be sure to set up your request for an informational interview exactly the same way and ask the same questions.
  1. Do this as many times as you can and you will build a strong network for your future faster than you can imagine. Chances are great that this process will lead to a job offer at some point, as you will have refined your focus before you ask for the first meeting.

Follow theses steps, and you will know what type of education to pursue, you will have less debt when you graduate, and 10 years from now you will be happy and successful beyond what you could imagine today.