"ASK HR" is our advice column where we answer readers' questions about pressing work dilemmas, job search queries, resumes, and navigating Hollywood. If you have a career-related question, email us, and the answer could appear in a future newsletter! All submissions will remain anonymous.
Dear Hollywood Resumes,
I know you always say to get your resume into the right hands by networking, and that a great way to build my network is to conduct informational interviews. I've set a few with people who work in my dream companies, in the departments I'd love to work in. But now what? What's my goal in these interviews? Should I be asking them to recommend me to join their team? Keep me posted for when there's an opening? What should I "get" when I hang up the phone with them? If the goal is a relationship, how should I nurture it -- especially now, when we can't meet in person?
-- Not-so-sure Networker
Dear No-so-sure Networker,
It's great that you're setting these interviews and getting going on a strong job search strategy. Taking that first step is often the hardest, so kudos to you for reaching out and getting these calls set!
Informational interviews can serve a variety of purposes, depending on your career goals. In some cases, you'll want to meet with as many people as you can to learn about various career paths, so you can determine a direction for your career. For those conversations, your primary goal would be to learn -- yes, a relationship may come from the call, but it's more of a fact-finding mission. In your case, though, it sounds like you have a clear idea of where you want to take your career and already have a list of target companies. So your "ultimate" goal is obviously to get a job at one of those dream companies! But in practice, it's a little less straightforward.
If you want to know what you should "have" when you hang up the phone -- though we hesitate to frame it that way, for reasons we'll explore below -- the answer is knowledge and a contact. You'll want to learn about the company and make sure it really sounds like a place you want to work. Can you get insight into the department or culture beyond what you've read in the trades? You also want to sow the seeds of a relationship with someone in the side of the industry you're pursuing who can let you know about openings at their company, or otherwise. You should always research the person you're meeting with to see if there's a particular thing that you would like to learn from them -- you might find there's a specific "ask" you have for that individual.
But your goal is manifold and nebulous, and not really something you can check off right when you hang up the phone. There are no KPI metrics for an informational interview, but rather a hope that you've established a meaningful connection. And that meaningful connection could have many beneficial results -- your contact may forward you job openings, pass your resume along when there's a job that seems up your alley (maybe even at their company!), introduce you to other people in the industry so you can expand your network, and/or become someone you can build a lasting relationship with. But really, it's less about "what you get" and more about a symbiotic, ongoing relationship.
There are many ways to nurture the relationship, even without meeting in person. Keep a list of who you're meeting with, when, and what was discussed so you can track the relationship, and then follow up every couple of months to check in (the holidays are a great time for this!) or send a friendly note if you read something interesting about them or their company in the trades. You also have a baked-in reason to reach out once in-person meetings become normal again -- something like, "I really appreciated the advice you gave me back in May. I'd love to meet up for a drink/coffee to say thank you now that we can do so safely! Please let me know if you'd be available." You don't want to be a pest, so you'll have to gauge how the person responds to your overtures, but as long as you are polite and checking in when it doesn't only benefit you (meaning you don't just ask for a favor every time), you should be able to build a relationship. And if the relationship doesn't pan out long-term, that's okay -- we encourage you to take this as a learning opportunity too, since some people offer great advice, even if they don't become trusted contacts.
You can't really control the outcome of the informational interview, but you can control what you put in. To that end, we recommend coming prepared with a list of questions, ideally based on some research on the person and company. Recognize that this person is doing you a huge favor by giving you wisdom and time, and they expect you to show respect by being prepared, not being pushy, and having an open mind. The less you're concerned with your "goal," the more likely you are to achieve it!
-- Angela & Cindy