Prepare for Your Coffee Dates
If you’re not familiar with the idea of an informational interview, let me fill you in. They’re an awesome way to meet new people, learn about different industries, companies, and fields, and expanded your sense of what’s possible. On top of being meetings where you’re able to ask for advice and learn from your connection’s experience, they’re also a chance to make a stunning first impression.
But let’s be real—even though they’re casual, information interviews are still interviews, and no matter how valuable they are, chatting with someone for the first time can be a little awkward. What should you say? Where can you get the conversation going to get what you’re looking for? How do you ask for a job without asking for a job?
As always, it’s just a matter of being prepared. That sense of discomfort will melt away if you take the time to pinpoint specific things you’re hoping to learn during the conversation, as well as what you plan to share about yourself.
Draw up a plan for what you want to say over each cup of coffee you’ll be sharing in the weeks to come. Prepare a natural sounding elevator pitch that captures a little about your experiences and your career goals. Next, draw on the red flags or points of interest you spotted during your Lesson 2 research to determine which insider information you want to learn from this person.
Create a shortlist of questions to help you guide the conversation. Here’s ten you can refer to for inspiration:
Why did you choose [career area]? How did you end up working in [career area]?
From everything you’ve observed, what problems can you cite regarding working in this career?
What experiences best prepared you for your job?
What has been the most surprising thing about working in [career area]?
Where do you see your career going from here?
What makes your company distinct from the rest of the [career area] world?
In your organization, when you’re hiring, in what position do people usually enter?
What is different about the hiring process in [career area] than in other fields?
What advice would you have for someone breaking into [career area]?
Who else would you recommend I talk to? (Also, mention who else you’ve talked to.)
Depending on where you are in the job search process, you’ll want to tweak your questions accordingly, but it’s always smart to lead with questions about your contact’s personal experiences (people love to talk about themselves). From there, move into questions that seek advice specific to your job hunt process, and while it might seem counter-intuitive, you’ll still want to steer clear of directly asking for a job.
Sure, it’s no big secret that you’re looking for a new position, but job talk will alienate your connection and get in the way making them a long-term part of your network. It’s on your contact to initiate that part of the conversation, and it’s likely that they will because of the way you’ve prepared for the meeting.
Final thought: Don’t operate off of only questions—follow the natural flow of the conversation and let your contact get to know they real you. Be sure to give your listener enough information about your objective so that they can help you if they’re compelled. For bonus points, come armed with a pen and notebook: Your contact will see that you’re taking the meeting drop-dead seriously.
Next time, we’ll talk about one of the most useful yet under-utilized steps in nailing the informational interview process. It’s likely the one you dread most, even though it’s the most important.
See you there,
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