It’s that time of year. The birds are singing, the flowers are in bloom, and thousands of MBA candidates are sending out informational interview requests. It wasn’t so long ago that I was in their shoes, desperate for help in my awkward, stumbling journey on the Dream Job Trail. My wagon had a broken axle, one of my oxen had died, and I was living under the constant threat of starvation. All I needed was enough money to pay a guide so I didn’t have to ford the river and risk losing all my supplies, when a member of my party died of dysentery and we had to stop to bury him.
Wait. That was the Oregon Trail, not the Dream Job Trail.
In any case, back in those days I wished I knew what was going through my interviewee’s mind so I could make the most of our brief time together. Hey, now I AM that interviewee! And I can tell you exactly what I’m thinking! Fancy that.
If you’re one of the lucky ones who already nabbed a summer internship or a post-graduation job offer, then congratulations! Go have a drink while your over-stressed, still jobless classmates read the rest of this post.
Know that I am happy to hear from you. I get a kick from helping other MBAs find their dream jobs. In fact, I hope you’ll come work with me because I think my company is pretty great.
I get lots of emails like yours, and it’s hard to follow up with all of them. So you might not hear back from me right away, if at all. Sorry, I have a job now, and they pay me.
SO…Here’s what you can do to stand out.
Start with strong connections. I prioritize informational interview requests in the following order: referrals from friends and colleagues, MBAs from my alma mater, and everyone else. That’s why it’s so important to use your network and not just send cold emails to people you have no connection to. Start with your school’s career center (they usually have an alumni directory), and then move on to LinkedIn, starting with first connections and moving outward. Don’t be afraid to ask for an introduction.
Make your request personal. Tell me something interesting about yourself. What do we have in common? Why are you passionate about my company? (Remember, I think it’s an awesome place to work, so tell me why you think so, too.) Why do you want to talk to me, specifically? Make me care about you.
Be specific about the amount of time you are asking for. 30 minutes is usually the cap. Suggest some dates and times that work for you. Don’t make me search through my entire calendar.
Drive the conversation. I probably just came out of a meeting and my brain is a confused ball of mush. I need you to remind me (briefly) who you are and why we’re talking. Then ask me some questions. I like talking about my job and my company, so this shouldn’t be a problem, but the more feedback you can give me the better. If I use jargon you don’t understand, ask for a translation. If I go off on a tangent, make your question more specific. I can’t help you if you don’t help me.
Please, please, please do your homework. Know what my company does, who our customers are, where we fit in the market, what our competitive advantages are, and what makes our culture special. Don’t just glance at our website and call it a day. Look for white papers, spec sheets, news articles, press releases, blog posts, tweets, and YouTube videos. Find something that really excites you and ask me about it. Even if I don’t know the answer, I’ll be impressed that you did your research.
Finish up on time and (nicely) make your ask. Are you hoping I’ll connect you with someone in another department? Do you want my email in case you have more questions? Are you hoping for a referral? This can be tricky if I just met you, so use your best judgment on what’s appropriate. Also remember that my ability to help you is contingent upon my tenure at the company. In other words, I’ll have a heck of a lot more leverage if I’ve been at the company for 5 years than if I’ve been there 5 months.
Follow up. Most people send a thank you email, but few follow up after that. Feel free to add me as a connection on LinkedIn and send me a note when you land that dream job. I’m rooting for you!