Monday, April 25, 2011

Informational Interviews

When I was trying to break into the publishing industry, I did a few informational interviews to find out more about publishing and to get advice about next steps. I found the experience to be invaluable, and now that I've "made it", I'm happy to give back and grant informational interviews when requested. I've been doing quite a few lately, and it inspired me to write a post about tips for how to make the most of your time.

-Confirm your meeting/phone call the day before. And be understanding if the meeting needs to be postponed or rescheduled.

-Come prepared with questions to ask, and don't be afraid to take notes. This shows me that you're prepared and serious about my time. Don't expect the person you're meeting with to ask all the questions. They're not interviewing you; this is an opportunity for you to ask questions that may help you in your quest to break into the industry and learn more.

-Research ahead of time. Google both the person you're interviewing and the industry you're trying to learn about. These days, you can find so much information about publishing online. Don't waste your time or the time of the person you're talking to. For example, if you Google me, my blogs come up, as well as the interview I did for the Career Cookbook. There, I talk all about how I got into publishing and the nature of the industry in general. I don't mind talking about these things again, but I'm always impressed when someone tells me (whether in an informational interview or actual interview) that they've read about me, and then ask a question that expands on what I've already said.

-Be professional and put you best foot forward. Even if you're not interviewing for a position, if you impress the person, they'll be sure to remember you and refer you to other jobs or keep you in mind when future openings arise.

-Show up on time, and take the person's lead as to when the meeting is over. It might be a good idea to ask the person how much time they have at the beginning of the interview.

-Send a thank you email or card afterward

Some potential questions to ask (again, don't ask these questions if you can already find the answers online/elsewhere):
-Do you like your job? Would you recommend this field?
-How did you break into this industry? How do people generally break into this field?
-When you're hiring people for XX position, what qualities do you look for most? or What qualities do you feel are most important for this field?
-What is your favorite aspect of your job? Your least favorite?
-What do you wish you could have known back when you were starting out?

-What is a typical workday like? What are you typical hours per week?

At the last informational interview I gave, the person brought me a little box of mini cupcakes as a way of thanking me for my time. Gifts are never expected (and I would strongly suggest NOT bringing a gift to an actual interview!), but I was actually quite touched/appreciative. Plus, they were delicious. However, in the past I've been sent a person's self-published book as a thank-you for my time, which gave me a bad taste in my mouth, because it made me feel that the person was a little disingenuous about asking for publishing career advice, when perhaps he really wanted an opportunity to share his writing with me.

How many of you have done informational interviews to break into your industry? Any other tips/suggested questions to ask?

Read more informational interviews tips/questions to ask here and here.


Laura Atkins said...

I did around 20 informational interviews when I moved from San Francisco to New York, and as you say, they were invaluable. I learned a lot about publishing in New York, met some amazing and well-known editors, and got two jobs out of the process. These tips are great. One other thing I did. Since I had already been working in publishing in San Francisco, I put together a sort of portfolio with my resume, a list of books I'd worked on and awards, and maybe even some color copies from some of the books? I can't remember - as it was a very long time ago! But I think being really well prepared and presenting yourself at your best is the way to go.

Libby Koponen said...

A self-published book to an editor is about the worst thank you "present" I've ever heard of....except in Lillian Hellman's autobiography when someone sent her a bag of chicken shit. Supposedly as fertilizer for her garden but still. Not a great gift.

Naomi Canale said...

It’s nice to get an insider look into the world of the interviewee :) One of the questions that stood out to me was, "What do you wish you could have known back when you were starting out?" That is one of my favorites to ask! It’s like never ending wisdom flowing out of one question. Another question I like asking is, “In your career, who has had the biggest influence on you? What did they do to inspire you?” Thanks for this Alvina. Enjoyed it much!

Jonathan Auxier said...

I'm a big believer in this. When I started out as a screenwriter, I asked if I could buy them lunch and pick their brains about the industry. I can count on one hand the number of people who declined to meet me (it probably didn't hurt that I had at least one common acquaintance). At best, you learn something new. At worst, you enjoy a meal with someone interesting.