Wednesday, January 13, 2010

How to get informational interviews

This commentary applies to you if:
  • you're a senior and looking to land a full time gig
  • you're a junior and haven't had any luck with getting interviews so far (it's still early)
  • you're a sophomore and the bulge brackets and management consultants won't look at you because you have no experience and don't stand out
  • you're a freshman and have no idea what banking / consulting / finance is
Basically, if you don't have a job and want to significantly increase your chances of landing one, you should know how to get informational interviews and then nail them.

1. What is an informational interview?
It takes place at the firm's headquarters or firm representatives come to your campus. You get to speak with people at all levels, from junior analysts to managing directors and partners. You get one on one time to talk about your interests, and get to ask those questions you can't get answered by Vault guides and even websites like these. You get a personal understanding of what goes on as a potential hire and learn about the type of people that tend to succeed at the firm.

2. What is there to gain from an informational interview?
As I've said before, it's hard to stand out in a pack of resumes. When everyone has a great GPA and great experiences to sell themselves, 75% of the time recruiters will give a first-round interview invite to students that showed initiative in learning more about the firm. This means getting on the phone, speaking with firm representatives in person, and reaching out to ANY contact. Few students take advice from firm employees and follow up.

McKinsey and other firms hold coffee chats with students on some college campuses. It takes initiative for a student to ask around or be on the lookout for these events, and there are limited slots open. Those students who end up having an informational session had a 50% chance of getting selected for a first round interview, which is much more promising than the average 7% invite rate.

3. How do I get informational interviews?
If you are set at working at a couple of firms, email a contact there (preferably couple months before the official resume drop or in advance of recruiting season if they don't recruit at your school). Don't ask for a job outright and don't email your resume in the first message.

Keep the email short - no more than 5 sentences - and mention the reason why you're contacting them (i.e. interested in learning about the industry, want to hear about his experience, how he / she broke in)

If you get a response, have a phone call with 3 or 4 pointed questions prepared.

If you don't, email others until you get a response.

Once you get a response, build rapport with the contact. Every couple months send an article over that might be of interest or give a few book suggestions. Be genuinely interested in what they have to say. Don't use these contacts as means to an end.

There's no guarantee that everyone will want to give you an informational interview over the phone or in person, but you need to keep contacting people and trying to be personable, friendly, and serious about wanting to break in. The ones that like you will give you a shot. Others may not but that's part of getting yourself noticed in a positive light.

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