Mod Note (Andy): "WSO Best of 2013" - this was originally posted Aug 1st.
So summer is winding to a close and recruiting season is rapidly approaching. Monkeys will be dusting off their resumes with the hopes of securing IB and PE interviews and eventually offers from the jobs of their choosing.
A key aspect to any successful job search is the. The purpose of said interview is not to ask for a job directly, per se, but to learn about a selected profession, company, and often to lock down an introduction to someone who might be able to get a resume in front of the right people.
Here are a few tips for:
1) Have a tight, well-crafted story
This is not only an opportunity for you to practice your interviewing skills, but for you to put your best foot forward for someone who might be able to introduce you to 'the powers that be' within your industry or company of choice. Lead off the informational interview with a succinct and clear story of exactly why you're interested in the target field and the precise reason you wanted to speak to this specific person.
This can, and should, change depending on who you speak with, but it's important to start with this for a number of reasons: 1) Make them feel that you sought after them in particular, not just any old banker/trader/whoever. Now they're listening. 2) Get them onboard with your story and why you want to break into the industry. This will let them know you're serious. 3) Give them a well-articulated and precise goal. This will inform them of exactly the help you need. If you impress them enough and they think you have a future, you've spelled out for them how they can help you achieve your goals.
2) Give, give, get
Arrive at the informational interview with value. This could be as small as the cup of coffee/lunch you're buying the person you're speaking with and it could be as big as a tip/insight on a company or even an introduction. Offer this up early on in the conversation. You don't need to be showy about it, but a simple, "Hey, Mark, I just want to say how grateful I am that you are taking the time to speak with me. I know you're generally very busy and I'm thrilled to be able to treat you to lunch today." Especially if you're going out for a drink/food, set the expectation early that you're going to pay so there's no awkward fumbling for wallets at the end. If you're making a connection/giving information, casually mention it at the beginning of the conversation: "Oh hey, Mark, before I forget, I know you're a weekend warrior on the golf course and I have a good buddy who is running a free short-game clinic two weeks from now. Remind me as we're heading out and I'll give you his contact info, yeah?"
Don't be a leech. Give before you expect to get. Not only will the gesture prove sound and the person across the table will be thankful, but also it's a natural human emotion to repay in kind. Be a giver and you'd be amazed how much people will give back.
3) Lead the conversation by listening
Not rocket science here. You want to maintain control of the conversation, but you can't learn if your mouth is open, yapping away. Listen intently, take notes if you want (not too aggressively - that can get weird) Show the other person you're interested and invested in what they're saying with classic body language of nodding, smiling, and the occasional 'uh-huh' or 'okay.'
It's almost like a date, right? Start off with small talk about this or that, so the other person warms up to you a bit and they're willing to be candid, then shut up and let them tell you all about themselves. Throw in a memorable story here or a witty riposte there, and boom, you're the world's most affable conversation partner. The industry professional will be walking back to his office thinking to himself, "What a great guy!"
4) Directed, efficient questions
This informational interview is about you. You are there for a very specific mission. What this mission is, you need to decide ahead of time. It could be for a direct referral, industry background information, overall career advice, specific firm-related questions, what have you. You need that objective to drive the discussion. Don't waste this guy's time with, "So, what islike? Is it a high-pressure environment?" Ask a pointed question, receive a specific answer, and take that answer and add it to your arsenal of industry knowledge and future interview responses.
A few goldmines from past experience:
- "What surprised you most during your first year of private equity?"
- "What advice would you give to someone in my position looking for a full time offer 18 months from now?"
- "What is the most important thing a person wanting to enter PE should know?"
- "What part of the job do you find the most satisfying?"
- "What particular skills or aptitudes do the most successful PE analysts have?"
- "What are the differences between _________ and its competitors?"
You'll notice that these are all 'What' questions. You don't want to appear like an automaton during the informational interview, but I have found that asking 'What' questions, yields responses that give you very specific pieces of data that you can then deploy when you need. Asking 'Why' or 'How' questions are also effective, but you will get a different sort of response all together - a much 'softer' answer. (Note: some will disagree with me here, I'm sure - I guess it's a personal thing, but I find getting jewels of data proves more valuable than broad brush stroke responses)
5) Ask for a reference and follow-up
Crucial. And underdone. At the conclusion of the interview, make a point of asking for a connection or referral to someone else within the field/company. I find a good way of doing this is within the interview, ask about the person's team, when they mention their teammates, make a mental note of remembering one person's name. Towards the conclusion of the interview, a simple, "Mark, this has been really great - thank you again for taking the time to speak with me. Hearing about your experiences in X has really confirmed to me that it is something I would be interested in learning more about. You mentioned your teammate, Sally, before. Do you think that you might be able to put me in touch with her or another one of your contacts in the industry? I'd be interested in following up with them and learning more about their experiences in X as well." Then shut up. Don't move. Wait for it... and yes...
In 25+ times I've said this, I've actually never had this not work before. But I'm sure you monkeys have all had different experience asking for referrals, so I can't speak for everyone. If the person doesn't connect you to Sally, or whomever they've previously mentioned, they will invariably connect you with someone else because you asked that question. (as long as you follow-up)
All it takes to butter that bread is the follow-up thank you e-mail with another request for the connection. By doing this, you've already established credibility with the second person you're speaking with, as the first person has given their 'stamp of approval' on your personality and professional potential. This second or third informational interview is where you can make 'the ask...'
So, monkeys, the above clearly isn't an exhaustive list, so what are the best questions you ask during your informational interviews? Any stories out there of how your interview helped you land your job?