Why an Informational Interview Can Be Crucial for Career Development

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informational interview

Interviewing is not just for job seekers because, whether you realize it or not, you are always trying out for your next opportunity. In today’s world, perception is reality and your personal brand will often speak before you ever get the chance. 

This is why, in the world of sports business, finding time to conduct informational interviews is one of the most crucial elements to your career development.

An informational interview is simply the interview process in reverse, in which you are conversing with a professional about his or her role, experiences, and expertise with hopes of simply gaining more knowledge. More importantly, this networking tactic provides opportunities to make a new connection, gain access to that person’s network, begin a potential mentorship and, most importantly, discover the hidden job market.  

Informational interviews can also help you expand your knowledge about trending topics in the industry — for example, you may learn from a new connection that esports is growing at a pace of 40 percent year-over-year and expected to generate $1.5 billion in US revenue by 2020 and, in turn, be able to express that impressive tidbit in another interview. 

These types of conversations will also offer tons of insight regarding different roles within an organization or company. Working for your favorite NFL or NBA team may be your dream job, but as we all know, the expectations of hanging out in the locker room or traveling with the team are usually different than what the actual position entails. 

Arel Gordon, a project coordinator at Google and former College All-American football player, said, “these interviews truly allow for potential job seekers to understand an industry [and specific roles], which better assists them with career decisions.”

Still not convinced you should take the plunge and ask a stranger about hopping on the phone for a 15-minute informational interview?

Here are a few statistics that may surprise you:

When examining these numbers, it is important to ask yourself: What makes you different than other potential job applicants? Branding today is as much about consistently delivering on your promise as it is about differentiation.

Tips to Score an Informational Interview:

Find the Right People

Not sure where to start? Begin by listing your current network on a spreadsheet. Think of professors, former colleagues, family and friends — and ask about their network. You may be more connected than you think. 

Social media has created nearly endless opportunities for networking, if done in the right way.

Social media became a way for me to network informally,” Deandre Duggans, manager of advertising and branding for the Baltimore Ravens, said. “Twitter threads gave me a chance to connect with professionals and talk about sports and marketing.” 

In addition, LinkedIn makes the art of networking much easier. Scour the people who work at well-respected companies in the industry and reach out to them. When doing so, however, a standard or “carbon copy” message is not the way to go; a personal and individualized touch can go a long way in asking for a potential interview. 

Have a Clear Message

“I want to work in sports” most likely won’t open the door to a phone call or coffee meeting. Be clear on exactly what you are looking for and don’t be afraid to ask for help. When you are upfront and clear with your intentions, “it eliminates confusion or the chances of you being seen as someone asking for a job,” Duggans said.

Preparing specific questions and proactively researching those who you are trying to connect with not only shows that you are intentional, but also that you respect their time. Keep in mind that 15 minutes may be all you need.

“Time is relative,” said Jacqueline Blackett, senior associate athletics director & SWA at Columbia University. “You can accomplish more in four minutes than you can in four weeks.”

Here are some sample informational interview questions from Yale University’s Office of Career Strategy. Our favorites include: 

  • How did you get started in this field? Is that typical of most people?
  • Describe a typical work week. Would these duties be the same for anyone with your job title or level within an organization?
  • What skills and personal qualities are most important for success in this job?
  • Can you recommend other people for me to talk to?
  • What do you wish you had known about this field when you were just starting out?

Be Visible

Connecting online or over the phone is a great step, but face-to-face communication will allow you to further demonstrate your authentic voice. According to Loughborough University School of Business and Economics, 97 percent of meeting attendees cited small face-to-face meetings as their preferred form of communication.

Volunteering or attending conferences and networking events are all ways to increase your visibility among sports business professionals. You can call it luck, but being in the right place at the right time is an intentional process to position yourself for scoring an informational interview in the near future — and, ultimately, success. 

You may be one meeting, connection, or tweet away from your next opportunity. Find the right people, have a clear message of what you’re looking for, and make yourself available to be discovered through becoming visible to your new — and ever-expanding — network.