Recently a friend told me about something I’d never heard of before: the informational interview. An informational interview is a job hunting strategy where you meet casually — yet professionally – with prospective employers and learn about job opportunities. It’s a way to earn face time with employers and possibly learn “inside” knowledge about upcoming openings. She told me it would be casual, comfortable, and could help me get my foot in the door.
I knew I needed to schedule an informational interview ASAP.
I’ve been working on and off in politics for several years, and I was now interested in learning how I could make the jump to working for a U.S. Representative. Being from New York, I cold-emailed the offices of several New York Representatives on Capitol Hill and introduced myself. I briefly mentioned that I was a former “hill intern” from New York wrapping up a graduate degree who would appreciate any advice finding work. I heard back from a handful of those offices and scheduled the interviews. I was excited but equally anxious.
Was I really going to get anything out of this or was I fooling myself for trying? Were they going to give me any information I didn’t already know about the challenging job search? Was I going to leave feeling more discouraged than before I started? What if they thought I was unqualified or out of my league?
Anxieties aside, my goal was to find one or two people who I really clicked with. Equipped with a black portfolio and a stack of resumes, I made my way to the Capitol Hill. I slowly approached the door of the first office and felt the butterflies in my stomach.
It wasn’t long before I realized how comfortable I was during the interview process. It felt more like a casual visit instead of a grueling interview where I had to prove myself. It was as though I was already “accepted.” I was especially fortunate to have met a few helpful women that wanted to help me on my way.
One young woman walked with me to the cafeteria and shared her story about coming to Capitol Hill fresh out of law school without knowing anybody. She advised me, “As a young woman coming to the hill…” When I told her about my interest in health policy she put me in touch with another woman who handles healthcare issues for her office. I was networking already.
Another woman offered to let me email her in the future with any questions about specific job postings. She gave me relevant feedback and told me that my background working with developmentally disabled adults could make me a more “diversified” applicant. I was beginning to feel less insecure about my prospects.
In my concluding interview, a woman who gave off a very ‘maternal’ air even offered to review my resume. I was very happy when she said she believed I had authentic experience from my internships. I was even happier when she asked for an electronic copy of my resume and offered to forward it if she hears about opportunities. When I emailed her that evening, she asked me to keep in touch.
I emailed everyone that evening and thanked them for meeting with me. I felt a unique interconnectedness by meeting with other women. It was like a network within a network of women helping other women. Though the job-hunt process is far from over, I feel a sense of support and security.
Here is my advice to other women looking for employment:
A) Identify areas of personal interest specific to your field. For me, that meant healthcare legislation and related social issues (i.e. healthcare access for vulnerable populations).
B) Once you know what field you want to work in, identify offices with similar values and ideally identify which employee may work closest doing the specific job you’d be interested in.
C) Briefly introduce yourself (no more than a few sentences) in an email and explain your interest and experience in your particular area. I did this and then specifically requested a brief informational interview to learn about finding work in the field.
D) Once you’ve secured the interview, prepare a concise, 60 second introductory speech on your education and experience. This is known as the ‘elevator pitch’, and I found that giving people just 5 sentences about who I was, what I could do, and what I wanted, was invaluable to getting their guided feedback and advice.
E) Most importantly, remain humble, thank them for their time, and keep in touch!
Getting face time with experienced people in your field is crucial for demonstrating your interests and qualifications and learning more about the best ways to navigate the job market. Ideally, they will put you in touch with other similar contacts or recognize your qualifications and keep you in mind for future openings.
Melissa LaMontanaro currently works with developmentally disabled adults in a group home where she is always mindful of their access to social programs. She received a Bachelors of Art in Public Policy & Management from University at Albany and is completing a Masters in Public Administration from Pace University. This is her first guest post for Fem2.0.