The number of informational interviews I’ve been asked to give to younger people who want to get into my industry has picked up in the last few weeks. Sometimes they can go very poorly, as I will illustrate here.
First, a definition: an informational interview is one in which you meet with someone who works in an industry you’re trying to rise in, get into, or learn more about. Although you shouldn’t go into it with expectations of such, from my own experiences on the other side of informational interviews, these can lead to referrals to more relevant contacts, long-term mentorship, or even job offers. They can be useful before choosing a career, when you’re looking for a new job, or even when you’re gainfully and happily employed. I still ask to sit for one or two a month with people I consider mentors of mine.
On occasion, they’re with people who might like to work for your company, but want a non-binding way to learn more about how to better position themselves for it. And so it was yesterday.
First, let me set the scene. I’m sitting in a mid-range Venezuelan restaurant after a long day of work. I had suggested meeting in my office, for coffee, or even for a drink when she asked to do the informational interview over dinner. I said the options I suggested would be better, to which she replied:
“But I know a great South American place,” she said. I was intrigued. She continued, “It’s called Camacas”
“I’m sorry,” I replied. “Camacas?”
“You know, like in Venezuela.”
Anyhow, a couple weeks later, I was sitting in Caracas — an arepas bar — when she shows up (late), says hello, sits down and immediately puts her phone on the table.
My jaw dropped; as it would each time she would pick it up to check or send a message throughout the night.
When I told her that we got so many applications for jobs that networking was immeasurably better than cold-applying, followed by my offering to link her up with other people for follow-on informational interviews, she responded by telling me of her plan to instead look for a job fair.
After she asked what the point of cover letters was, I told her that we use them to make sure people understand exactly what the job requires and show how they meet it, and for that reason, it was important that each was individually tailored. Her reply? She was going to find a good cover letter online to copy, only changing the information to match her own before bulk-sending it out.
But I’m leaving out what might be the best part. At one point, I was speaking again about how great networking is, and how she should even go as far as reaching into her social circles and hobbies to find others who might be in her field. To this, she mentions that poetry is a hobby of hers. I tell her that I love poetry and start to move on, when she pulls out a notepad. You would presume that this is when she finally starts taking notes, right?
Nope, she cuts me off and starts reading A FREAKIN’ POEM she wrote. I was trying to look polite as she made her way through two handwritten pages, but I was also kinda looking around the restaurant trying to make eye contact with other people, as if to beg them to telepathically reassure me that this was still real life.
Finally, it was time to end the evening. Now, in the past, when I’ve done informational interviews over coffee or over a drink, the interviewee had always lunged at the bill and wouldn’t even let me consider paying for anything since I was doing them a favor. However, given the price of the meal, I was planning to insist on paying my own way.
The waiter laid the bill in front of me; she looked over and said: “You don’t need any help with that, right?”