The Art of the Informational Interview
Since day one of your undergraduate career, you have been set on working within that niche of the sports world. Maybe with a team or even a big brand. Gatorade would be nice, right?
The problem is, at 19-years-old, you have no earthly idea what a sports marketer does on a daily basis.
You're in the final stretch of your cushy undergrad life but you aren't sure what classes to take, what type of internships to get and whether you'll need to pursue a Masters in Sports Administration in order to get a good job. Before you know it, your head is spinning out of control and you are not even sure if sports is the right fit for you anymore.
So, where do you turn?
Enter the informational interview, an underutilized tool for advancing your sports career and clearing up some of the bewilderment running rampant in your mind.
How Can an Informational Interview Help Me?
The informational interview is a short interview, maybe 20-30 minutes or so, where you gain information from someone you admire in the industry. That could be a peer, someone with five years experience or someone with 20, it just depends on what you want to learn.
For example, maybe an alumnus from your school works in the marketing department with the Miami Heat. You might reach out to them for an informational interview to see how they got to that point in their career, what they studied and/or how they developed their network.
An informational interview isn't just an informal chat, have a plan for what you want to learn and establish your goals for the conversation. You are not only gaining information, you are building a network that will help you launch your sports career.
Don't Start Calling Anyone Yet...
Before you reach out to anyone, there is one task you have to do — check your social media presence.
Whenever someone reaches out to me for a short call, I immediately check their Twitter and Linkedin before responding and I ask myself:
- Is this someone I want to invest 20-40 minutes of my time with?
- Does this person present themselves in a favorable light?
- Is their Twitter profile a picture partying with a few buddies?
- Can I see from their LinkedIn that he takes himself seriously?
In order for you to have a moderately successful response rate in conducting informational interviews, you have to position yourself accordingly.
Building an Outreach Plan
Once your social media presence looks clean and professional, you can begin the process of reaching out to people.
Your initial correspondence should be brief and to the point. No one will read a drawn out 500-word email about how much you love sports and why you want to work in sports. Your carefully crafted monologue will be deleted before ever being considered.
Remember, this informational interview is not about you; it is about the person you are reaching out to. Keep your email between three and five sentences — name, school, internship/job if you have one and why you chose to reach out to them.
The last point is important.
Ego plays a role in getting a response, if you explain why speaking to them in particular is important, you are much more likely to get a response. Remember to cite specific reasons, don't let your correspondence seem like it could have been sent to 100 other people.
If you are reaching out to someone who works for a team or league, be mindful if they are in season. If you want to get in touch with someone at the New York Mets, you might be better off trying to schedule an interview during the winter months versus the middle of summer.
Once you have sent off your emails to a few individuals, you wait...and wait. Oftentimes, because of the person’s busy schedule, they might not get back to you — and that is ok. If your response rate is anywhere near 1 in 3 emails, I would say you are doing fine.
What to do When Someone Says 'Yes'
So, you finally receive a ‘yes’ response from someone in the marketing department with the Chicago Bulls. What types of questions are you going to ask them? What should you talk about? How much will you talk?
The first step is research.
- Research the person on Linkedin/Twitter - understand their tone, are they witty? serious? detail-oriented?
- Look at their biography on their company page and learn their history. Where have they worked? What are the parameters of their current role? Do you have common ground that could act as an ice breaker?
- Prepare a list of 5-10 questions that you'll want to ask. Even with the prepared questions, the conversation should still be fluid.
Examples of questions you might ask include, why did you decide to work in sports? Do you suggest any sports marketing conferences to attend? Where do you see yourself in five years? What motivated you to attend graduate school? What is the most challenging part of your job? The list goes on and on.
The more research you conduct about a person, the better the conversation will go.
I try to live by the 75%-25% rule regarding informational interviews, 75% of the time the other individual is talking while I am just talking 25% of the time.
Naturally, with the 75%/25% rule, you will be doing a lot of listening. Asking follow-up questions is an added way to show you are actually engaged in the conversation. This might seem like common sense, but not everyone does it.
Are We Done Here?
The conversation is over, you thank the person, and that is that, right?
Following up with an email 3-4 hours after your call and thanking them once again is a must. Sending a handwritten ‘thank you’ note to the person is even better.
Even after you have done this, it is imperative that you continue the conversation and stay in touch. The closer you keep in contact with them the better your chances are that they'll tell you, or better yet, recommend you, if they hear of a job opportunity.
Touching base every 6-10 weeks is essential, just remember to bring something to the conversation other than 'have you heard of any jobs?'
People will tire of you quickly if that is all that comes from your side of the conversation. You might come across an article titled ’10 Habits of Successful Sports Marketers’ and decide to pass that article along to them, or, you might just reach out and wish them a Happy New Year.
Now that you have a better understanding of what an informational interview is and how it can benefit you, it is time to take action. Set a goal to reach out to two to four individuals each week, with the hopes of having one phone call each week with someone in the sports industry that you admire.
Before you know it, your network grows little by little, and the sports industry that you thought was so incredibly large, becomes much smaller.
Guest author Mark Burns graduated from the University of Michigan in 2011 and is currently a third year law student at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. In 2013 he was named a"30 Under 30" Award Recipient by Sports Launch Magazine. Mark invites you to connect with him on Twitter and Linkedin.
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