No matter how much the business world changes with the advancement of technology, one aspect remains unchanged – the informational interview. I empathize with recent college graduates who not only face student loan debt, but also have to break into the job market at a time when the national unemployment rate continues to stay above eight percent. More young adults are jockeying for the same positions in an effort to simply “break in” to their field of interest.
This past summer we had a handful of college students stop by the office for informational interviews. We always delight in the proactive efforts of young adults that are still in school but who are also looking ahead to make sure that they are taking the right classes and courses that will set them up for future success. With that in mind, here are some tips for making the most of any informational interview.
1. Do a little homework. (Not a lot, just a little.) Since this is not a formal interview for an actual hirable position, the conversation can be more general but be sure to read up about the industry and the company you are visiting. Demonstrate that you’ve put in some effort before walking in the door, and you will not only leave a lasting impression, but it shows you are serious and making a concerted effort to educate yourself outside of the classroom.
2. Guide the discussion. Don’t be afraid to ask a “dumb” question – this is the time to do it. It’s wise to prepare and bring a list of questions regarding the industry and company with whom you are speaking. You set up the appointment so it’s essentially your responsibility to drive the conversation. Ask questions that will actually help you in terms of charting a course for your own future success. You may even find out that what you thought you wanted as a career isn’t exactly what you had in mind.
3. If you were me…. This is always a great way to harvest information and gain advice about how to set up a path towards finding a job after school. Whomever you are speaking to, young or not-so-young, has made a lot of choices to get to where they are today. They’ve also made some mistakes. You can always glean useful tips from taking a quick walk in someone else’s shoes.
4. Manners matter. This may seem obvious, but it’s worth sharing. Be on time (be five minutes early). Turn off your cell phone before you walk in the door. When in doubt, dress up. And always send a hand-written, personal thank-you note afterward.
See you in the trenches!
Timing is everything. We hear this every day and it pretty much applies to every facet of life. The same can be said for luck – lucky in love, lucky at work, etc.
Timing and luck can also be perceived as key factors in building visibility with the media. While I certainly subscribe to the notions of luck and timing, I also know that expertise, coupled with some finesse and cleverness, can also result in positive outcomes.
In our business, timing and luck are often married to each other – especially when it comes to working with the media. If you think you have a compelling story angle or perspective and you catch the right reporter, in the right mood, and with open ears, you might wind up with an interview and ultimately an article. However, without the creativity that is born from a little finesse and cleverness, the odds of grabbing a reporter’s attention might be slim.
These days, reporters are more overwhelmed than ever as newsrooms grow smaller while social media continues to explode. Most reporters sift through hundreds, if not thousands, of emails per week – and that is just the ones with captivating subject lines. How you say something is just as important as what you say. Combine this with some luck and the right timing and you may have found a formula for media relations success.
One of the most consistent complaints we come across when meeting prospective clients, and the reason why many seek new PR help, is that their previous agency didn’t listen. How much business is lost over this seemingly obvious action…or lack thereof? I can’t think of one industry that is immune and yet the challenge continues. How do we solve this? More importantly, can it be solved or is it simply in our nature to believe we are so smart that we can provide the answer to a question that we have not even heard? Or that we can recommend a solution without fully understanding the other person’s challenges and issues?
I will admit I have very little patience when it comes to lack of listening. It’s kind of a “thing” with me. Like everyone else, though, I see this problem across every facet of my life and on a daily basis. Don’t get me wrong, I love to wax poetically about my favorite things as much as the next person, but when it comes to investing time and money into something of importance, I see very little return on my investment if I know I am not being heard.
Not to sound cheesy (or as if I just watched Oprah), but we are constantly being reminded to live in the moment, for it is the most important time we have. If we aren’t thinking about tomorrow, or reliving yesterday, perhaps we can better focus on the present, the here and now. If we try to make this effort a bigger priority, maybe we will find it easier to open our ears and our minds to really envelop what the person sitting across from us is trying to communicate. How hard can it be?
Everyone here at Snow Communications is deeply saddened by the loss of Steve Jobs. His passion for innovation, creativity and persistence has shaped our lives, both personally and professionally. Much of the joy and wonder we experience with technology is due to his genius.
There are so many wonderful words being said about him amongst his fans, colleagues and competitors from around the globe and across so many communication mediums. However, when cutting to the heart of what matters most, we think he said it best.
Cheers to a well lived life Steve Jobs…and thank you. Rest in peace.
In many ways, September 11, 2001 feels like it was yesterday. In other ways, it feels like a distant nightmare where you may struggle to not dwell on it too much as the tears might come too fast. Who can forget the shock, devastation and heartbreak for all the countless lives lost? Yet, in spite of this unparalleled feeling of loss, hope remains.
The 9/11 Memorial opens today, September 12, 2011 after a special dedication for families of the victims on September 11. If you don’t have plans to visit New York in the near future, a quick visit to its website is certainly worth a trip.
We will not forget.
I remember being in elementary school and visiting the fire department. During the tour, the fire chief discussed several things but what I remember most were his words about how every home should have multiple fire extinguishers; that each family should have an evacuation plan; the importance of the “stop, drop and roll”; and that every bedroom on a second floor should have a portable ladder in its closet. Learning to “stop, drop and roll” was certainly easy and appeared to be a no-brainer, but I remember being mortified when I got home armed with all of this new knowledge and expertise to discover that my parents not only didn’t have portable ladders (I had a second-floor bedroom), but there was nary a fire extinguisher in the house or any kind of evacuation plan – discussed or written. It all seemed so irresponsible despite being what appeared to be such an obvious and fundamental need.
This same sentiment can be applied to businesses – big or small – when they find themselves in an unlikely situation where internal and external communication must be managed delicately. While the majority of large corporations and businesses have plans in place to address potential conflicts or adverse issues, there are still plenty of companies that don’t.
Termed crisis communication plans, these well thought-out processes and steps can be just as critical to a business as an evacuation plan would be to a family dealing with a fire in the middle of the night. A crisis communications plan is often the Holy Grail for business owners that need a strict and formal guide to light the way for how they are to deal with their situation – step by step – during what would most likely be a very tense time when emotions run high.
Plans should be as comprehensive as possible and include employee designations, contingency plans and prepared statements (which can be modified if necessary). Author Otto Lerbinger wrote in his book “The Crisis Manager” that there are at least seven different crisis categories that can either be considered acts of nature or human error. Preparing for both is necessary and in today’s communications realm, social media will also require a significant focus. While this endeavor will require a concerted effort and a lot of time, the payoff is invaluable. While some crises are much more dramatic than others, developing a plan that considers the situations with the most potential, can save a company valuable resources, not the least of which is its reputation.
As the fire chief once said, having an evacuation plan will make all the difference should your house catch on fire.
The other day I met the owner of a small technology start-up at a local fundraiser. As we were exchanging pleasantries and small talk, I told him that I worked in public relations and he asked me if I thought social media was replacing traditional media relations, and if I thought that reporters were becoming less influential. I do get asked this from time to time and my answer is always the same. I read something recently that sums up my feelings:
“The trend we need to see emerge for the industry is the understanding within the broader profession and the business community that public relations is not communication – PR is about identifying, developing and maintaining mutually-beneficial relationships between an organization and its stakeholders. A public relationship is the end goal; communication is merely the means to the end. “
(Stephanie McFarland, APR)
In essence, one form of communication should not be judged against another as my new friend suggested, but merely analyzed and considered in terms of what is most relevant for a company or organization in order to help them build their public relationships. The value of print media is no less critical today than it was ten years ago. Even though newspaper circulations across the country are declining, niche, community and trade publications that serve a unique audience are showing sustainability and growth. Besides, if you look at what people are posting on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, chances are you will see some news article links to all kinds of traditional media.
When we view things from an “either/or” perspective in the PR world, we limit our potential for success. The best recipe for achieving valuable public relationships is usually a creative mix of programs and activities that will best serve your overall marketing objectives.