The Art of an Informational Interview

One of the lines that sticks out to me from one of the hundreds of informational interviews that I conducted while trying to break into the sports industry is “once you break in, make sure you pay it forward” – the context being that once I broke into the industry, make sure I make the time to speak with individuals on the outside looking in. I took that to heart and since breaking into sports full-time in June 2013, and I have fielded hundreds of requests for informational interviews since.

Some have been great, and others not so great. When individuals come up to me and ask what will set them apart and be the x-factor for them breaking into sports, I often tell them it’s the informational interviews they have with individuals. Similar to my post about having genuine conversations, only a small few will actually go the extra mile in scheduling informational interviews. I find this to be absurd. I’m sure that if I guaranteed a job to any aspiring student who wanted to break into sports by saying, “if you do X, Y, and Z, I’ll hire you”, nearly all would do X, Y, and Z. So it’s crazy to me that when I tell students or anyone else who seems desperate to break into sports, “if you do A, B and C, there’s a great chance (nearly 95% let’s say) you’ll get a job in sports”, only a very small few actually end up doing it.

Here are my three thoughts or steps on how to approach the informational interview:

1)      The Ask

If you’re a student, this is pretty easy. Send an email, give them a call, but the message should be similar, “Hello, my name is Sam and I’m a masters student at North America University trying to learn more about the sports industry. I see that you work in XYZ department at ABC team/ company. If you had the time, I would love the opportunity to pick your brain about your work and the types of projects that you focus on”. If you’re not a student, that’s okay, you can follow a similar guideline.

2)      The Call

Sounds dumb to say, but be prepared, and have some idea of what you want to talk about. I’ve had several bad calls, but one sticks out to me more than the others. Someone once reached out to me and set-up a call. Once our scheduled time rolled around, I called them and they sounded surprised to hear from me – they had completely forgotten we had a call! Okay, no problem, everyone makes mistakes, so we set-up a second time to have a conversation the following week. When we finally connect the following week, they are totally unprepared. They have no questions or any ideas on what to talk about. At one point there was nearly :30 seconds of silence on the phone, followed by a comment on whether or not I had questions for them. The kicker to the entire situation is that months later they came and asked me to hire them. What chance of hiring (or recommendation from me) do you think this individual had at that point? Be prepared. Don’t waste someone’s time – it’ll bite you.

3)      The Follow-up

Nothing major, but send a quick thank you plus anything you discussed on the call that you promised to follow-up with. If anything interesting regarding your call came up such as an interesting article, include a link and reference it. Take the opportunity to stay in touch and engage again if you stumble across something that you find applicable to your previous conversation. It calls attention to the fact that you were listening and did some critical thinking beyond the call. But listen, a simple thank you is totally okay – don’t over engage if there’s nothing to talk about.

4)      Staying in Touch

This one is a bit trickier and does not apply to everyone you speak with. Some of the contacts you speak with and conduct informational interviews with are going to be more valuable than others – that’s just how it works. But staying in genuine contact when appropriate goes a long way. What I mean by this is if you come across an article or something else that you believe is interesting to someone you spoke with, send it their way. Don’t over do it, and don’t feel as though you need to do this to everyone you spoke with. If they respond and engage, great, you’ve reminded them that you exist. If not, not a problem, people are busy - avoid continuing to send them material if they continue not to respond.

So where does this all go and lead to? Hopefully a job in sports. The idea here is that you’re creating a bunch of meaningful and genuine relationships. Relationships that will then make you aware of openings on their own, or that may serve as allies to you when you apply to jobs.

In conclusion, if you really want to work in sports, I would start by first asking yourself why. This, in and of itself, is something you need to be completely honest with yourself about, and something I talk about in another blog post. The second thing you need to do is really commit to it. I promise you, that to date, not a single individual or person that has taken this advice, did not eventually land a job in the industry after taking the advice and guidelines that I talk about above to heart. If it’s your ambition to work in sports, you can make it a reality. The sad truth of the matter is that most people don’t really have the fire or the passion to make it happen for themselves. Instead they sit and wait for something to happen. It doesn’t matter if you’re an undergraduate student, or a masters of sports business student, or an MBA, JD, or PhD – these things mean absolutely nothing unless you are willing to put in the time to network, meet people, and conduct informational interviews. Yes, some may get lucky and meet that perfect connection that ends up helping get them a job immediately. However, the general candidate gets and finds a job through hard work and outworking the 80% that say they want a job in sports, but in reality only kind of want it.

If you want it, you can do it. You have the tools outlined for you on what it takes to be successful. Get after it.