Informational interviews are integral to the job search, especially in the networking-driven entertainment industry. When done right, just one informational interview can open up a world of new opportunities. However, many candidates set informationals and underutilize them, or worse, make a poor impression. There's nothing more disheartening to us than meeting a Hollywood hopeful for coffee, only to leave shaking our heads, knowing we wasted our time on someone who is unlikely to succeed. Whatever you do, avoid these mistakes -- and yes, these all really happened.
Coming in or calling in late. Someone is taking time out of their day to meet with you, solely for your benefit. This person won't want to help you in the future if you show up late or call at 11ish instead of 11. When scheduling a call, set an exact time and stick to it, and make sure to find a quiet area with strong cell service. If you're running late, send a quick, apologetic email. Also, it's not cool to say you're "parking" while you're sitting in traffic on the 405 and won't arrive for another 20 minutes.
Asking for a favor before you’ve had a conversation. Obviously, you’re hoping the person you’re meeting with will become a part of your network, pass you along for jobs, or even read your script or watch your reel. They know that's your goal too. But part of the deal is that they don’t have to do any of those things if they decide they don’t like you. It’s kind of like a date -- you might go into it hoping to take the person home that night, but you don’t say that at the outset. As they say, buy a girl some dinner first. Don’t open with, “Who do you know that I can meet with next?” or “Are there any job openings at your company?” or “I wrote a script, would you mind giving me some notes?” Let them offer to do those things. If you play your cards right, they will.
Not having any questions prepared. In an informational interview, you’re the interviewer. It’s your job to set a goal for the conversation and ask intelligent questions that will give you the answers you need. Maybe you’ve learned all there is to learn about breaking into the industry, and if one more person tells you to get a job at CAA you’ll tear your hair out. It can be frustrating to sit through people’s advice again and again, hoping someone will be the person to get you your job. Welcome to Hollywood. Ask the questions anyway. Brainstorm new questions that are specific to the person you’re meeting or that shed light on something you may not know, like what tracking boards to join or what scripts you should be reading. And keep in mind, people like hearing themselves talk. If you can pretend to engage in the conversation by asking lots of questions (even if you think you already know all the answers), you're going to make a much better impression and encourage the person you're meeting with to help you in the long run.
Taking too much time. An informational call should last between 15 and 30 minutes, and a coffee between 45 and an hour. Anything longer and you’re overstepping your boundaries, unless the person you’re meeting with offers to stay. If you didn’t get to cover everything, ask if you can stay in touch should more questions come up. If you've put your best foot forward, the person will most likely say yes.
The trick is to treat an informational like an exclusive backstage pass to Hollywood. Soak up information by asking questions, and respect that someone of greater authority than you (right now) is letting you into their world. It’s up to you to pique their interest enough to become someone they help down the road.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan