My latest Work In Progress post for Forbes.com shows that informational interviews are not just for the junior job seeker. Experienced professionals and entrepreneurs can also benefit from the networking connections, nuanced information, and up to date news that can only be learned by talking to people firsthand. Here’s a real-life example of when I’ve used informational interviews to my benefit and tips for applying this valuable tool:
Informational interviews are not just for recent graduates looking for advice. I recently interviewed Tom Vitale, Executive Vice President, Programming & Original Movies, for the SyFy and Chiller channels. As I am producing an independent film in the science fiction/ gaming space, this was an amazingly helpful interview. Here are tips to effective informational interviews:
Have a clear target of WHO you want to interview
Sometimes you know an exact name – you read about someone, you research the head of a department. Sometimes you only know the type of person you wish to meet, but you still need to have specific parameters. In my case, I was at an entrepreneurs’ brainstorming event, and I asked for recommendations of people who would be compelling interview subjects for a science fiction/ horror blog series I was writing. The clarity of the request made it easy for people to share ideas and introductions.
Share a compelling reason for WHY you wish to speak
You want to have a compelling WHY for the people who might recommend interviewees and also for the interviewees themselves when you reach out. In my case, I shared details about the blog series already underway and also what inspired the series, so that people would realize that I would treat their referrals with care. When I was introduced to a potential interviewee, I shared actual blog posts, so that the person would see that I had already done some work and would maximize their valuable time.
Set an agenda for WHAT you will discuss
Sharing your WHY, in my case the actual blog posts, also helps clarify exactly WHAT you will discuss. This makes it easy for the interviewee to prepare. This also helps you prepare and customize your agenda to the specific person you will interview. In the beginning of your research, you will have an overall agenda (e.g., interviews with creators in the science fiction/ horror space) but when you have a specific interviewee, you want to craft specific questions around their area of expertise. In my case, even while I stayed within the overall theme of how to bring these projects to market, questions widely varied when I was talking to someone at a small independent v. at a larger, mainstream company.
Be open to HOW you can find your ideal connections
I was referred to Tom Vitale via a fellow entrepreneur that I met at a women-in-business event, NOT at a film convention or an entertainment conference. I met another film interview subject, Kelly Timpane, via my recruiter network. Turns out, Kelly is an HR professional by day/ zombie film producer by night! You just don’t know who people know. Do not be afraid to ask broadly, as long as you can be specific about what you need.
Even experienced professionals and entrepreneurs can benefit from the nuanced insights, up-to-date trends, and networking connections that good informational interviews provide. Aim for several informational interviews each week if you’re active in a search or a project. Set a goal for the new year to add an informational interview to your calendar on a regular basis. This ensures you maintain this critical skill, learn things you cannot from published sources, and meet interesting, diverse and valuable connections.