I would like to introduce you to an intern’s best friend: the informational interview. Another interview, you ask?! Didn’t I have to jump through enough hoops to land this sweet internship in the first place! But don’t worry, you now hold some of the power. An informational interview allows you to use your newly networked contacts to meet with someone about a certain job, career field, industry, or company. You come prepared with questions and call (at least a few) of the shots. The trick is, they are interviewing you just as much as you are interviewing them.
My first year of graduate school taught me a few very important lessons, one of which included if you want something, ask! Assert your needs! During my internship at the Field, I have spent a large majority of my time working in evaluation. We are piloting a new summative evaluation plan, which includes surveys, interviews, and timing/tracking in the Restoring Earth exhibit. So, when my direct supervisor inquired about anything that might be missing from my experience here, I asked about important people from the museum and evaluation world that I should meet before leaving the city. She emailed the Vice President of Arts & Culture at Slover Linett, a Chicago-based consulting firm that specializes in evaluation. The growing company seeks to “engage more people and engage people more deeply,” – definitely a mission that I could get behind!
So, along the lines of my Intern Etiquette post, here are a few tips I have for those of you looking to expand your knowledge, expand your network, and expand (possibly) expand your resume with an informational interview! A few tips…
- Remember, this is not a job interview, but that doesn’t mean you should look sloppy or be sloppily prepared! Do your research on the person you are meeting with and the organization that you are interested in. Linked In, Google, etc, etc are your friends. If you have made this contact through a current employee, find out how they are linked. For example, Slover Linett is currently doing consulting work for the Field on the Grainger Initiatives, which focus on technology engagement in exhibitions.
- Bring in a list of questions but be prepared to be asked some as well! I went into my interview thinking I would be running the show but it was much more of a give and take. The person I was meeting with wanted to know about me and my experience with evaluation just as much as I wanted to know about her work and how it fits in with museum practices. Also, no questions are dumb questions. I asked about everything from the structure of their office teams to how long they had been in their current location!
- Be open to new ideas and ready for discussion. It’s okay to be passionate about what you believe in! After talking with this executive, I realized that we both have strong opinions about evaluation as a holistic and visitor-centered endeavor. Conversation about my past and current research easily made in into our time together and complimented our talk. You’ll know when it’s the right time to listen to the person you’re meeting with and when it’s time to bring up your accomplishments. Always strike up a balance between the two.
- Use this interview as a networking tool to further your career. Ask the person you’re meeting with if they know anyone from ____ museum or _____ organization who might be willing to talk with you. Always bring a copy of your resume because you never know when you’ll need it. Most importantly, don’t forget that thank you notes are not a dying art form! Remember to continue connecting with your contact – maintaining this relationship could open doors later on down the line.
Do you have any other tips for emerging museum professionals conducting informational interviews?