Thursday, March 8, 2012

How an Informational Interview Helped Me Land My Summer Internship

This week’s blog was written by Laura Chernikoff, senior Film Studies major and TAM minor at CU.

My experiences with informational interviews directly led to a summer internship in Santa Monica, CA. This summer, I will work  for BermanBraun, an independent media company that has film, television, and digital divisions. After several conversations with one interviewee she offered to pass on my resume if anything came up. Her recommendation helped me immensely, in addition to the advice and information that other individuals I spoke with offered through the informational interview process. 

1.  What is an informational interview?
The best way to explain this is that an informational interview is akin to a reverse job interview. YOU get to interview the job, rather than the other way around. It's your opportunity to talk to someone with a career that is related to your interests, and to hear about their firsthand experience. It is a networking opportunity in which you are information gathering and seeking industry advice. It can't be stated enough, however, that you are NOT asking for a job, just a conversation. The relationship you build from an informational interview may help you get a job down the road, but you certainly don't want to ask for it at this point.
2. How did you find people to do informational interviews?
I started with my parents' address books. From there I moved on to my friends, friends of friends, and acquaintances. I just started letting everyone know that I'd like to talk to anyone related to my industry. My dad even got in touch with a friend from his childhood whom he thought would be helpful. I searched LinkedIn and used my other social networks (Facebook and Twitter) to ask friend if they knew anyone I could talk to. I asked persistently for six months, and it finally paid off. 
3. What has been your experience with informational interviews?  Successes and failures?
Entering the film industry, there was one thing I kept hearing: It's all about who you know. Living in Colorado, however, I don't know very many people working in film in Los Angeles. So, informational interviews have been a CRUCIAL part of my networking, internship search, and I'm sure they will contribute to my job search in the future. 

I say this despite the fact that honestly, I very nearly gave up. My first two informational interviews were not that helpful. In fact, one didn't even happen. I was introduced to someone, but then never actually managed to pin down a time to talk. The second was just plain discouraging because it was with someone who had been out of the industry for a few years and was rather cynical about it. Then, I ended up connecting with several people whose jobs barely related to what I wanted to do. Despite these experiences, I stayed with it, and in the end had at least three wonderful conversations, one of which built a connection and helped me get a summer internship.

I was unable to conduct any informational interviews face to face. Phone conversations, I found, were ideal, but not always possible. I feel comfortable communicating via email, so if it seemed like it would be less trouble for the interviewee, I would offer, and be very careful to sculpt my questions and responses in writing.
4.  What questions did you ask that were particularly helpful?
More and more, I found that it was hard to plan a basic set of questions. I was always changing what I'd ask based on who the person was, how well I knew them, how long they've been in the industry, and how the actual conversation went. But, I would often try to use the following as a good starting place: 

  • Tell me about your path to where you are now.
  • What jobs and experiences led to your current position? 
  • What do you enjoy most about what you do? What do you find most challenging?
  • What do you recommend to someone starting in the industry? 
5. What would you recommend to someone who has never done an informational interview?  Any tips?
Never say no to a chance to talk to a professional. Even if you think their job has nothing to do with your goals, you never know what you will learn from them. I kept putting off pursuing one connection because I assumed it would not be helpful, and it ended up being the best conversation I had! Don't stop asking for connections, and never turn down any chance to conduct an informational interview.