Four valuable tips from my informational interview adventures.
My job search and first foray into the sports - or baseball - industry has taken longer than I anticipated. I'm definitely at fault for initially underestimating, to a point, what it's going to take to get my foot in the door.
But that hasn't stopped me from plugging away and using each new day of the search, especially right now, as a learning experience.
I've told a few people this already and I'll write it here as well - if I landed a job from the first phone call I made upon landing back in the States to pursue my dream, the only thing that would have benefitted is my bank account.
The amount of knowledge and wisdom I've accrued over this time - especially from every phone call I've had with experienced sports professionals - has been invaluable in teaching me more about the industry and what it will take for me to be successful in the years to come.
I wouldn't have that valuable knowledge in my back pocket now if not for this journey of the past half a year.
Now more than ever, there is so much time to schedule phone calls and learn from professionals who have more free time than usual (especially in my case with every sports league on pause) and are eager for some additional social interaction.
With all of that in mind, I wanted to share a few tips and tricks that I've been using since I began my search that may help you as well if you're looking to connect with someone in any industry for a quick phone call:
1) Build a relationship first.
So, this is not a blanket statement. I've successfully initiated some phone calls and informational interviews with an out-of-the-blue LinkedIn or Twitter message (and even the occasional shot-in-the-dark email) and I'm sure you can, too.
But the vast majority of calls I've had have come from planting the seeds of a relationship over time with the person on the other end before reaching out.
That could mean periodically and meaningfully engaging in the content they share on LinkedIn, replying to their tweets, or even sending them an initial message saying you heard their interview on so-and-so podcast the other day and appreciated a point they made.
It can take a week, a few weeks, or even a few months - but keep it consistent and genuine.
Slowly, your name may become recognizable a bit more to the point that when you reach out, you won't be this completely random person reaching out anymore.
2) Prepare for the call.
It blows my mind when people tell me they give a person a call and simply hope they learn a thing or two!
In my opinion, an informational interview via phone should be prepared for equally as much as an in-person interview.
The good news is you don't have to get dressed up for a phone call. Trust me, that's important good news!
But you should still do your research and prepare a list of relevant questions or points you're hoping to cover in the 30 minutes you get with the person. (More to come on this topic in a future blog post, so stay tuned!)
You'd never walk into an in-person interview cold, would you?
Use the resources at your disposal - your mind and the internet - to figure out 1) what knowledge or insight you wish to gain from the chat and 2) what the person you're going to be talking to has accomplished to this point in his or her professional journey.
You will be pleasantly surprised at how much this helps the conversation flow better.
3. Take notes.
This is one of the few things I've done right since the very first informational phone call I ever had with someone in the sports industry a few years ago (shout-out to my good friend, Blaire Mershon, who's been super supportive since the very, very beginning!).
Before every phone call, I open up the notes app on my phone (you can also take out your good old friends, a notepad and a pen, if you prefer).
I write down who it is I'm about to speak to, where he or she currently works, and a list of the questions or points I'll be using as my flexible guide to the conversation.
Then, with headphones in my ears, my hands are free to jot down the occasional good point, advice, interesting story, or anything else that might come up that's worth remembering.
(Note: Even though I said this is one of the few things I've done right since the very beginning, I've improved my method along the way. Initially, I was asking the same general questions to everyone and ending up with relatively similar responses and notes. Soon, I began tailoring more focused questions per individual - per point number two above - and ended up with much more valuable notes and conversations).
My collection of notes has become an invaluable resource for me to look back on whenever I hit a bump in the road one day or I'm at a brief loss of how to proceed with my search.
It's also become like a mini-Rolodex of people I've connected with - think collecting business cards at a networking event.
Also, if you don't take notes, you'll probably be like me and forget 95% of what the other person said and what you talked about within about two weeks, let alone six months later.
And that would be an unfortunate waste.
4. Send a quick follow-up message.
This one gets repeated over and over for obvious reasons - because it's important! Yet some people still forget or just don't get around to doing it.
It's so simple - within 24 hours of the phone chat, send a short email, text message, LinkedIn message, or Twitter direct message (depending on how you were in touch leading up to the call).
There's no perfect follow-up message, in my opinion, but there are two things I make sure to always include, no matter who it is: 1) thank the person for setting aside some valuable time in their day to share some wisdom and advice with you and 2) mention a point or two that was specifically impactful or helpful (note-takers for the win!).
Yes, you're probably going to make sure every word of the follow-up email sounds perfect and maybe change it around a few times before clicking "send" - we all do!
Those messages go a long way to show your appreciation and cement a relationship with someone new, even if the person doesn't respond. So, do it!
Unfortunately, there's no great acronym to go along with those tips, so let's just call it Zack's RPNF Method for now. It's pretty catchy, isn't it?
I hope this piece will be helpful to even one person reading it. Please let me know if is!
If anyone has any additional tips or tricks they would like to add, please shoot me a message and let me know! I have definitely not perfected the informational interview yet either and I've love to learn some more from you as well.
And, as always, if anyone reading this works in marketing or business operations of any kind in the sports industry (bonus points if it's baseball) or knows someone who does, I'd love to chat and share my story.
Using the RPNF Method, of course. 🙂