I would consider myself an outgoing person, but something about the cheap chardonnay and the schmooze-y undertone of traditional networking events makes me want to hide in a corner. Seriously, I would rather be in quarantine the rest of my life than go to another networking event.
Over the years, I've found that growing my network through informational interviews is much more my vibe. Getting rid of the awkward ice breakers and walk-up weirdos allows me to solely focus on the person in front of me and go deeper into conversation. On top of that, I'm also able to curate the people I meet. The result? A targeted, intentional, and authentic way to grow my network.
So here are my three tips for making informational interviews work for you:
DO YOUR RESEARCH
If you want to make the most of your time with someone, do your research in advance. This is not the time to have them recite their resume - you should read that on LinkedIn. Check out their profile and get a sense of their career journey. Google their name and see if they have written any articles or publications. See if they're associated with any interest groups or philanthropies. The point here is to learn enough about the person so you can...
COME PREPARED WITH THOUGHTFUL QUESTIONS
"Seek to understand" is the name of the game here. The reality is, people love to talk about themselves, so keep your questions focused on the person you're interviewing. Why did they decide to get into that industry? What challenges did they face along the way? What advice would they give someone who aspires to be in their shoes? Tailor your questions to the person in front of you based on the research you've done. In terms of give and take, I approach informational interviews like this: give them the opportunity to share and take the message behind the story.
"IS THERE ANYONE ELSE YOU THINK I SHOULD MEET?"
Unlike traditional networking events, the person on the other end of an informational interview will naturally gain a clearer picture of me, my goals, and my interests through our conversation. I always end my interviews asking if there is anyone else I should meet based on our conversation. They likely know at least one (if not many more) people that I should continue a conversation with, and they are usually more than happy to make the connection since we've built a rapport. This is the key to growing your network over the long term.
Informational interviews have been critical to my success over the years. In no particular order, here are some of the things that informational interviews have offered me:
I've found mentors that have helped shape my career
I've met amazing talent that I eventually hired
It opened many opportunities for new roles at interesting companies
It helped me land my current job
I've made lifelong friends
Traditional networking could never!