The Informational Interview

Applying to business school puts you in a very unique category.  Unless you have a serious shift in your life plan, it’s unlikely you will ever be in the same situation again, that is, becoming a student in a terminal degree program.  Now is your chance to get meetings with just about anyone you desire to discuss their experience and your vision.

The informational interview is underutilized.  Very few young people take the time to reach out and attempt to sit down with others to discuss their perspective, their contributions, and how they got from point A to point B.  Imagine how valuable it would be to spend a casual hour with someone who is actually doing what you only dream of doing one day?  No agenda, no job offer or admission on the line,  just gathering info about what they do and how they do it.  

 Think it’s tough to get your foot in the door?  Think again.

Professionals are very empathetic towards young, bright-eyed, hard working students.  When you are applying to business school, you essentially adopt the same status that a student has, which affords some pretty unprecedented access.  Granted, Tim Cook is not going to say yes to every MBA wannabe who tries to charge the gates at Apple, but you’d be surprised how many young folks he spends time with who figure out a way in. 

It doesn’t have to be the CEO of Apple with whom you spend some time in order to get good information.

  A good tip is to try and find an email or two of someone who works for a company you’re targeting post MBA.  Linked in can be even better, since we’re all just a couple of connections away from just about anyone we’d want to meet.  Be persistent, but thoughtfully so.  This means, don’t hammer their inbox every three days, but do follow up if you have not received a response within a couple of weeks.  I once heard about a young applicant who emailed a CEO once per month for six months and finally was allowed a visit. 

Gatekeepers are trained to keep people away, but many executives read all their non-spam emails, so you never know what’s going to resonate. 

I always recommend being as brief as possible, identifying yourself as an MBA applicant looking for insight into their company or industry as you make your applications, and add something personal about yourself.  If you are having trouble finding contact information, dive into your network. It’s likely you know someone who knows someone who can either make a connection happen, or at least put you in touch with someone one level closer to someone you’d like to chat with. 

The goal of the informational interview is to simply explore someone’s worldview and hear about their journey. 

Plan to not do much of the talking, but rather come armed with intelligent questions—plenty of them.  It’s fine to bring notes along so you don’t forget what you came there for.  One very important thing to always be prepared for, however, is the inevitable question, “what can I do for you?” or “how can I help?”  You’d be wise to know the answer to that in advance, so whether it’s for them to connect you with someone in their company in charge of MBA recruiting or simply to stay in touch as a resource, you should always have something to ask for.  Successful people feel good about helping those who are just starting out, and your interest in them and their job and industry is flattering.  MBA application season is an ideal time to do informational interviews, so get out there and get connected!

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