One day this past summer I was soaking my nails at a salon in Manhattan and discussing a past internship of mine. Anyone observing me would most likely assume I was talking with a friend but in fact, I was on an informational interview. This experience reinforced my belief that advertising is a business that has relationships at its core. But how can you forge relationships with professionals while still a student? Informational interviews and shadowing experiences are great opportunities for expanding your network.
Even when you are not necessarily looking for a job or an internship, building your list of contacts in these more relaxed settings is a great idea. The individuals you meet can provide industry insights that you will not find in any textbook. If you manage these relationships over time, the people you meet might just become your personal champion when it comes time to pass your résumé along to human resources.
I landed my first job through a shadowing experience I had last summer. Through an advertising professional organization, I became acquainted with someone willing to host me at her company for a few hours. I met members of her team and was able to ask many questions about her work and company. It was a great opportunity to witness the corporate culture too. I had such a rewarding experience that I made sure to keep in touch throughout the year.
Finding individuals to meet with can be challenging when starting out, but I found that alumni and professional groups are helpful. In terms of preparing for an informational interview, make sure to research the company and client. Come ready with strong questions that showcase your interest in advertising and how your host's company fits into the landscape. It's also useful to be aware of current news and issues facing the industry, so you have something to contribute to the conversation. These professionals can be very busy and you want to make the best of the time you have.
Perhaps more important than the interview itself is what you do when it ends. Remember to thank the professional for the experience, whether by email or handwritten note. If appropriate, asking for further contacts is also smart because then you can more quickly expand your network. Every once in a while, make sure to check back in with those you have met. Send an email about something you read that is related to their work or try meet up for coffee if you are in town. Staying relevant in their minds is a good thing, but you do not want to go overboard with too many messages or emails that sound forced. Authenticity is key.
Informational interviews and shadowing days are supposed to be learning experiences and so the atmosphere is typically more relaxed. You are not necessarily being evaluated but it never hurts to make a strong impression. You never know what greater opportunities may be on the horizon, and you want to be the person that people think of as a good candidate to fill a future open position.
About the Author
Amanda is a recent graduate of Ithaca College (2011) and currently works as an assistant media planner at Universal McCann.