Boly:Welch 101 – The Winning Guide to Informational Interviews

I got my job at Boly:Welch through an informational interview.

My first “real” job as an attorney was pretty isolating – most of my day was spent reading medical records, and becoming increasingly somatic about it. A claimant would have carpal tunnel; I’d think I had carpal tunnel. A claimant had an aneurysm; I’d have a headache. Chart notes on a lumbar fracture would make my back hurt. It wasn’t a great fit.

While looking for the next step in my expected legal career path pursing the usual channels, I stumbled across a Boly:Welch job posting. I had zero recruiting experience, but fell in love with the company and decided to woo them. By the time I finally met co-founder Diane Boly at the University of Oregon’s Annual Women’s Roundtable event, I had already laid out my long game.

It started with a deep dive into Boly:Welch’s marketing and social media presence to understand the organization, requesting and receiving eleven (11!) informational interviews within a three week span with various recruiters outside of Boly:Welch, then revamping my entire online presence to demonstrate my newfound passion for recruiting. After assuring that I could talk the talk, I scheduled a meeting with UO Portland Career Center’s Linda Favero – an incredible resource for any Oregon Ducks looking for work in the Portland area – who gave me the contact information for Carie Strahorn, Boly:Welch’s Marketing Director.

I reached out to Carie.

Crickets.

Persistently, I emailed again. Carie agreed to an informational interview in two weeks, on a Tuesday. On the preceding Thursday, I noticed Boly:Welch was sponsoring an event Linda was hosting aimed at women in the workforce – it became the next step in my game plan. I showed up and came on strong to the Boly:Welch hosts, including Diane – strong enough that my partner wondered if I was trying to go home with Diane. But I also played it cool – making sure to exit before the conversation got stale and mentioning how much I was looking forward to my meeting the next week.

That Tuesday, I prepared as if going into a final round interview. If memory serves, I watched this video to prepare myself mentally. Feeling confident, I plugged the parking meter for two hours, even though Carie had promised just 15 minutes. Six interviewers, four hours, and a parking ticket later, Boly:Welch offered my dream job.

I am here to tell you my story is not an outlier.

Informational interviews are a networking technique that allow you to connect with people from companies and industries of interest without the stress that comes with a typical job interview. In other words, the roles are reversed: you have the power of interviewing someone else in order to boost your career. We see these meetings turn into job offers much more often than you would think. One in 12 informational interview results in a job offer, compared to only one in 200 resume submittals.

But you shouldn’t simply think about pursuing an informational interview with the intention of getting a job offer. In fact, steer clear of specific expectations from any informational interview – keep your eyes and ears open for options. This often underutilized networking strategy can offer tools to evaluate career choices that no blog post, friend, or university adviser can, and subsequently can open up an entirely hidden job market. It will also open your eyes to roles you can pursue through more traditional channels.

To get the interview:

It’s important to remember that an informational interview is a request for someone’s time and energy. If you approach “the ask” from that perspective, you’ll get better responses.

I also recommend, if possible, asking for an introduction or dropping a referral’s name. Nothing prompts me to open an email like “Referral from John Doe – Would Love to Hear about Your Career Path.” And, if possible, reach out over email or via LinkedIn.

If you don’t have a referral, there are some amazing resources and templates available online. Check these out:
The Cold Email
Five Email Templates for Following Up
The Ultimate Meeting Email Template

There are a ton of resources, but these are some great examples that are easily adapted.

And here is my own personal template:

Hi [Name],

[Referral] – who I know from [blank]– recommended I reach out to you to hear about your career path. I’ve been [blank job] at [blank] for about a year. The work has been [blank], but I’m looking to move to a [bigger, smaller, etc.] company and better culture fit. I’d welcome your perspective on what skills and experiences should have in a market as unique as Portland, and what it’s like to work at a growing organization like [company].

I know you’re busy, so even 10-15* minutes would be appreciated.

Thanks so much,
[Name]

*For whatever reason, 10-15 minutes gets a great response…probably because it’s such a simple request. You’ll inevitably get more time, but you’ll also have a higher chance of someone saying yes to your ask if it’s not as much of a time-commitment as lunch.

Keep your email to the point, work around their schedule, and you can ever offer to buy them a cup of coffee if you want. Make sure you’re very clear about the parameters of the conversation – I hate “pick your brains” type emails—I want to know up front exactly what we’re going to talk about. You want it to be easy for them to say yes to your request!

You’ll be blown away by how generous people are with their time, networks, and advice. Informational interviews remind me of something psychologists call The Ben Franklin Effect – people like to be liked, and will go out of their way to help you if you ask them for a favor.

Don’t be afraid to follow up your initial request (after a week or so!) if you don’t get a response the first time (remember, it took two prompts to Carie at B:W!). If the person you want to meet doesn’t have time, thank them and ask them if they have any suggestions for people you can reach out to. Begin the process again.

Before the interview:

You want to seem eager and interested in your exchanges, so stay on top of emails. Respond promptly and professionally.

The purpose of setting up an informational interview is to gather information about what you need to succeed in your career field, learn about a new field, or just to hear about a personal journey. The most important thing to remember about this process is that you’re not scheduling an interview to get a job offer; the primary purpose of an informational interview is—as advertised—information.

Once they’ve said yes, preparation is key. Bring plenty of questions, but know which ones are most important. Your first priority should be to learn and connect. Are you considering a mid-career change? Trying to break into your desired industry? Thinking about an advanced degree? This is your chance to be curious and get insider perspectives!

In the interview:

Make sure you’re on time! Keep in mind you are asking for a favor. Also, dress up a little. Some people recommend dressing like you’re going to an interview, but I feel this is overkill in a city like Portland with such a liberal interpretation of business casual. Don’t wear shorts, flip flops, tank tops, etc., but don’t feel like you need to wear a suit. I’ll even base my outfit off the candid pictures of the company’s employees.

Once you’ve had that great first handshake, make sure you thank the person you’re meeting with for their time.

Ask questions (here are a few fantastic ones) and don’t do all (or really any) of the talking. People love talking about themselves, so why not give them the opportunity? Give them a bit of context on you and what you’re looking to know, and then just ask questions.

Consider asking:

• How did you end up in your current role? In this industry?
• How did you find out about (company)?
• What is the company culture like?
• What does a typical day look like?
• What kinds of decisions do you make?
• What are your favorite/least favorite aspects of your job?
• What are the most challenging/rewarding parts of your job?
• What do you like most about the company?

I’m a bit torn on notetaking – it’s great to have something handy to write down a recommendation or place to follow up, but you also want to engage authentically, which means listening.

Always ask who they think you should talk to next – this is your referral for your next interview, to get an in with another person who can help you hone what you’re looking for and open up unposted job opportunities. Also, for a last question, ask what you can do for them. You’d be surprised at how often you can make a referral to something important to them – a restaurant, activity in the community, something that you know about.

After the interview:

Always send a thank-you note after your informational interviews. This can be a quick email or a snail mail note – trust yourself to gauge your new connection. Here is a template with some thank you note samples. Emphasize something you discussed and thank the person again for their time.

And, if you say you’ll follow up, or the person gives you a referral…follow up or contact the referral.

Hopefully an informational interview or two will lead you to an opportunity as great as the one I’ve found at Boly:Welch, or at least point you in the right direction. We’ll have more information on general networking for business and pleasure next week. Until then, you can check out Boly:Welch’s Pinterest page Work | Network.

Contributed by: Abby Pfeiffer, Recruiting Consultant, HR