Welcome to Washington, What Do You Do?
How to Get the Most out of Informational Interviews
By Laura Gross, Principal and Founder of Scott Circle Communications
“What do you do?” From networking events to first dates, that is perhaps the question that begins many conversations here in Washington, D.C. More often than not the underlying question is actually “who do you know?” or “how can you help me?” Unfortunately, people seem to be more interested in leveraging themselves than establishing an authentic human connection. I have seen this over and over again in the infamous informational interview.
With an established career in PR in the same city for over two decades, I have plenty of experience to share which is why I suppose I’ve been frequently called to give advice. I’ve received requests from all sorts of people: recent grads who just moved to D.C. looking for a job, college students debating a career in PR, senior professionals deciding whether to go out on their own as a consultant and job seekers too – especially job seekers.
I know why people contact me and I genuinely want to be helpful (in fact I average one informational meeting each week). So, in the spirit of being helpful, here are some suggestions on how to truly get the most out of an informational interview and make the most of someone’s time.
What’s Your Goal?
The first question I always ask is: What can I help you with? If you asked for the meeting, you should have a good substantive answer. Do you want to learn about my career path? Do you want to know more about how to do PR in DC? Do you want feedback on your resume? Use this informational interview to do exactly that: interview me to gather information.
If you are looking for career advice or networking for a job, prove that you belong in the workforce. It seems like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how often people come dressed casually and not prepared. You should arrive on time, if not a few minutes early. And dress professionally too – you don’t know what type of office you are showing up to. The more you can show that you have made an effort to present your best self, the more likely you are to leave the interview having left a good first impression.
Bring a Resume
Yes, you might have sent me an email with your resume when you requested a meeting, but I get hundreds of emails every day. Always bring a copy of your typo-free resume with you to show you are one step ahead. I often take notes on the resume, which then sits on my desk for a while. You will be top of mind if I see a relevant job posting that might come my way.
With one Google search, you can find out almost anything about anyone. What is my firm all about? What is my background? You already know these answers, so how can I actually be helpful? A better question to ask me is what do I look for in a candidate? What is the interview process like at your firm? Do you mind looking at my resume and giving me feedback?
Write a Thank You Note or Email
I’m not looking for the next best seller – I just want a simple thank you email or handwritten note (bonus points for handwritten!).
Let me know what happened to you. Did you get a job? An internship? Decide not to pursue PR after all? Finding success in Washington and other cities often revolves around who you know. Future jobs and opportunities are all about connections, so it will only benefit you in the long run to keep in touch with someone you met. And maybe, just maybe, one day you’ll be the one paying it forward and I’ll be the one requesting an informational interview with you.
About the Author: Laura Gross (@lgross) is Principal and Founder of Scott Circle Communications (@scottcircle), a full service public relations firm based in Washington, D.C. with a mission to make the world a better place.