One way to maximize your winter break is to reach out to your network, NU alumni or industry professionals for informational interviews.
Here are some tips and advice from your fellow ‘Cat, Michael Janek.
A common misconception about professionals is that they’re unattainable. I’ve interviewed a lot of people in the entertainment industry from sheer curiosity and they usually welcome these interviews. These interviews have helped to build my network in LA and have even resulted in job offers. That said, you should only approach informational interviews to gain deeper understanding of the interviewee, their experience, and their profession. You shouldn’t expect to get a job out of them.
This is how I usually go about them:
- I find a person to interview. They may have the job I want. They may have a job I’m interested in but know nothing about. They may have a job that is indirectly related to the job I want.
- I identify the person I’m interviewing. You need to know their name, and their title at their workplace. Know what basic relationship they have to you. Are they an alumnus? Are they in the same profession? Do you have a mutual acquaintance? Did someone refer you to them or did you find them on your own? You don’t need to know much about them, as that’s the reason for the interview.
- I reach out to that person. Mostly this will be through email, at least initially. If you can find their email, send them a short message of inquiry to gauge their interest. No one wants to read a long email, especially if it is asking a favor. Get to the point.
If you’re a stranger and are vague on what you want, they have no reason to respond to you. That’s why, in the subject of the email, I usually include who I am and my relation to the person. Like “Friend of Cheyl Meyers” or “Question from an NU student”. I also make sure to send it from my northwestern email and have “Northwestern” in my signature. That word can open doors. Trust me.
Subject: Northwestern Student (Referred by Cheryl Meyers)
I’m a student at Northwestern University and I found you on the NU alumni database. I noticed that you’re VP of Marketing and Sales at Radio Disney. That sounds like an incredible job and something I’d love to learn more about.
Is there I time I could talk to you over the phone or email? I’d appreciate any insight I could get into marketing at such a huge company.
Thanks so much! I hope to hear from you soon.
Northwestern University 2013
If you are lucky enough to get a time to meet with that person, make sure you’re very gracious about it. People are happy to take a break in their day to talk to someone who’s interested in what they do. People love mentoring others and being reminded that what they do matters. So if you do it the right way, you won’t be bothering them.
If your meeting is over email, you have a lot more room to ask very specific questions, though regardless of the medium, you should always go into a meeting with some questions in mind. In a face-to-face interview, be spontaneous. Don’t look down at notes and read them off. Make it conversational. When they answer your question, take what they just said and ask more about that specifically. This shows that you’re interested in who they are personally, not what their position is. Someone who is making a career out of what they’re doing obviously cares about it. They won’t get bored of talking about it. And you should also be interested in it. “So you collect data from retired veterans? That’s interesting. How do you target them if they aren’t internet-savy?”
When the interview is over, make an effort to thank them, be it in person, a follow-up email, or a handwritten letter. They might tell you to contact them if you have any other questions. That’s real. They’re not just saying that. You now have a contact that is just as strong as “my aunt’s best friend who works at Paramount,” maybe even stronger.
I did this with NU alums on my lunch break and weekends while I was in LA. I also did it with people at my internship without making an appointment. I just walked into their office and introduced myself. If they aren’t busy, they’re usually willing to talk.
This isn’t a job interview. There should be no pressure to talk about yourself or why you’re qualified for anything. In this interview, you don’t really matter. That said, the person might in return, ask questions of you and you could be in their minds if a position ever opens up. I got an internship at Jimmy Kimmel Live this way. I had made contact with someone there and after talking with her, she forwarded my resume to the production manager. But I’ve also had these interviews where I just walk away knowing more about the industry. There’s really no way you can lose.
RVTF, Northwestern 2013