February 10, 2022

How to Make the Most of Informational Interviewing

Whenever we embark on a new career journey, the most common piece of advice is: “You should try informational interviewing.” As Smith alumnae, we all know that our network is an incredible resource, but actually beginning the process of reaching out can feel daunting.

Earlier this year, I decided to shift from paralegal work to marketing. Informational interviewing with fellow Smithies was the single most important method I used to make a successful transition. The following guidelines were crucial to getting where I am now. 

1. Use LinkedIn to find alumnae in your desired field

While the alumnae directory may be a great resource, LinkedIn is typically more up to date. Find alumnae in relevant roles through the LinkedIn filtered search feature or by navigating directly to the Smith College page and searching through the “Alumni” tab.

Don’t be afraid of reaching out to alumnae who are further along in their careers! Even if they haven’t been in your shoes recently, they’ll have more insight into hiring norms and tons of inspiring experience. Senior professionals may be busy, but they’re often very happy to help a fellow Smithie. 

2. Send an invitation to connect with a brief introduction

Once you’ve found someone you’d like to meet, send a connection request with a short message introducing yourself and explaining why you are reaching out. Offer specific times or a range to make it easier for them to know whether they can help you based on their schedule.

Here’s what to include in your introductory message: 

  •    Your name and class year
  •    Your reason in reaching out (i.e. “I’m currently working in business development and would like to transition to a career in banking.”)
  •    A personalized reason for reaching out to that alumna specifically (i.e. “I noticed you also moved into banking a few years ago..”)
  •    A request for a call, including the medium (Zoom, phone) and your availability
  • •    ....and a “Thank You!"

3. Prepare specific questions in advance

Once you have your interview set, prepare an introduction and explanation of your interests, as well as a list of relevant questions. You want to make the most of your limited time, and make it clear to your interviewee how serious you are about your goals by showing careful consideration. Some questions may include:

  •    How did you get into this field?
  •    How did you get into your current position?
  •    What do you recommend for someone in my position?
  •    What other attributes about your current company were deciding factors for you?

Tailor these questions to the specific background of your interviewee. Be sure to ask at the end of the call if they would be willing to review your resume or other materials to offer feedback. 

Also, consider asking the interviewee for more connections! Try specific, targeted questions like: “Is there anyone in your network that recently transitioned into marketing?” or “Could you connect me with another professional in this field?” Every connection can potentially lead to more, and this can help you to reach outside of the Smith network as well. 

4. Don’t feel like you need to ask for a job

Most likely, if your interviewee knows of any interesting openings, they’ll let you know. Only ask for a referral to their company if there’s a specific opening that interests you, and you had a positive interaction that gave your interviewee reason to believe you’d be a great fit. Make your exact interests clear in the call, as well as what you’ve already achieved that can be helpful in the future position, so if the right opportunity arises, they’ll know who to call.

5. Send a thank you note

Always remember to say thank you! Be sure to mention how grateful you are to hear from other Smith alumnae’s experiences and to receive advice. Let your interviewee know that you’d be happy to help them as well in the future (even if it may seem unlikely to you). Even if you’re significantly less senior, you never know how you can help people down the road. Conducting yourself professionally is always a great habit.

In my search, informational interviewing helped me visualize what a career in marketing would look like, and hearing that so many other alumnae made transitions like mine helped me feel more confident approaching the job market. Because of the Smith alumnae network, I met so many great people, found great resources, and eventually it led to finding a new job. This community is here for you, and we’d love to hear from you! Don’t be afraid to start sending those requests, and best of luck on your new career journey.

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