How to turn informational interviews into longer term relationships
By: Rebecca Aman Okay, so you’ve gone on your informational interview. Over the thirty minute conversation, your coffee-mate gave you insight into what the organization is like, how it’s structured, and even a few tidbits on ways to break into the industry when you graduate. But now what? One of the questions I am asked most often in my one-on-one coaching meetings is how to keep these relationships going in an authentic and organic way. And I get it. I get why this is such a popular question. This is a tough one. The “relationship” likely started with very little attachment to begin with. Maybe you were introduced by a mutual friend, or even connected via a LinkedIn cold message. Moving forward, you’re not likely to bump into them at the water-cooler, or perhaps more realistically these days, not likely to accidentally enter their zoom meeting. So what do you do? My advice- let the relationship slowly build in a mutually beneficial way, and let technology help you in the process. How do you do this: 1) Follow them on social media 2) Learn about them as people, not just as an employee at your dream organization 3) Let them know you. Your skills, your interests, your experiences 4) Offer to help in a mutually beneficial way More on this below. Social Media Now that there are popular professional social media networks like LinkedIn, and Twitter, make sure you’re on them (anyone reading on LinkedIn can check this off!), and following/connecting with those you’ve met with in the past. Let the creepy social media algorithms work in your favor. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t actually know how this works, but I do know that of the nearly 2,000 people I am connected with on LinkedIn, day in, day out, I likely see about 2% of them on my feed. Why is that? It’s because at some point I liked their posts, and they’ve liked mine. Simple as that. And over time this visibility builds. Because of this engagement, I know what they are up to, and as a result I might send them messages more regularly on real topics that we care about. Find your coffee-mates online and stay connected. So first piece of advice. Follow and be followed. Remember your coffee-mate is also a person In all likelihood, the bulk of your informational interview was about your coffee-mate’s organization, their role, projects they are working on and the like. But hopefully at some point in the thirty minutes you had the opportunity to engage them in their true work, the content of their day, and even their personal lives. People like to feel valued, and they like to feel like the issues that they work on each day are important. So instead of making your coffee-mate feel like the only value they bring is as a reference on your next cover letter, find out what they care about, and talk to them about that. You’ll find it easier to follow up with them when you can engage with them on the content of what they are working on. If you didn’t get the chance to speak about their true work during the coffee date, try googling them to see if they or their organization have authored any articles that give you a better sense of what issues are important to them, and what challenges might be keeping them up at night. Reconnect on those issues. Make sure your coffee-mates see you as a person as well Closely related to the last point is this one. All too often informational interviews involve the interested party peppering their coffee-date with a slew of questions. But make sure to talk about yourself, especially the parts of you that closely relate to what your coffee-date is interested in. They’ll begin to see you for your expertise, skills and interests, and not just your end game- getting a job at their firm. This is what it means to truly be a part of a network- so build towards that. Offer to help Especially when you are a student, you have so many ways to build professional development into your time at school (I’m developing a full article on this so stay tuned). If your coffee-date gives you a sense of what they are working on, or even better, what issues they are struggling with, offer to help. This help can come in a myriad of ways. Your first inkling might be to see if they have opportunities for part-time or full-time internships so you can help solve their problems from the inside. And if they do, great– that’s one way to help. Some lower hanging fruit might be to ask your coffee-date what they are struggling with and see if you can research the topic for an upcoming paper (kill two pieces of tofu with one stone), and dedicate some time and brainpower to helping them solve that problem. With that offer (and the resulting deliverable) you’re showing many things: your initiative, your kindness, your value, your skills, and very importantly you’re finding a way to stay connected well past the first coffee date.