by Ryan Law
This Summer I have the opportunity of teaching our personal financial planning internship class and as a result, I have had a number of students drop my office to ask me questions about it. The main question I seem to be getting is “how do I find an internship in the field I am interested in?”
Today I would like to explore the idea of informational interviews in more detail with the goal of helping you find an internship, and ultimately a job.
Informational interviewing is setting up an interview with an individual at a company you are interested in so you can learn more about their company and what employees who work there do. You should not go in to an information interview asking for an internship or job. If an internship or job offer comes out of it because you are so well prepared that is great, but you shouldn’t plan on it at this point in the process.
Here are some specific steps you can take to increase your chances of getting an informational interview and how to be prepared for the interview.
You should network with people in your industry every chance you get. For students majoring in Personal Financial Planning at the University of Missouri, for example, students have, at minimum, the following changes to network with professionals in the financial planning industry:
- Financial Symposium – coming up April 23 (more information to follow in an upcoming Financial Tip)
- Bi-weekly Financial Planning Association meeting
- Career Fairs
- Financial Planning Association meetings and events in Kansas City and St Louis
- Conferences – Financial Planning Association, Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education and others. Students in other majors or fields all have similar opportunities. You should search out these types of opportunities and attend the events, but even more important, talk to the professionals!Why is this important? According to the Occupational Outlook Quarterly book, published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employers fill the majority of job openings through the unadvertised, or hidden, job market . In other words, they are filling jobs with people they know and find through methods other than traditional advertising. If you have met, and impressed, an executive with a particular firm 2-3 times at various events and had an informational interview with, you have a much higher chance of getting an internship or job there.
2. Learn all you can about the companies you are interested in
You should know the company’s mission statement and how it ties in with your personal mission statement, the basic history of the company, what they do, what they look for in a potential employee and anything else you can learn about them. You should know who their major competitors are and what the major issues are facing the industry. This will help, in the beginning, to weed out some companies you aren’t interested in and to have information to use, and hopefully impress the person you are interviewing, in your informational interview.The internet makes this process much simpler. You should be able to find all the information and more on most company’s websites.
3. Utilize social media well
This is true of all social media, but when it comes to the job market you need to pay special attention to LinkedIn. I resisted getting a LinkedIn account until a few months ago, and now I wish I had signed up a long time ago. If you don’t have an account on LinkedIn – get one today.Many companies have a LinkedIn Company page, and most industries have LinkedIn Channels  and Groups. In addition many companies and industries post on Facebook and Twitter. Just a few minutes ago I got an e-mail from LinkedIn about issues facing financial counselors. You should be getting these types of e-mails from industries and companies you are interested in. If I was interviewing for the job of a Financial Counselor think how much more powerful the interview will be if I can say something like “I was reading recently about divorce rates and how that is increasing the demand for financial counselors. Have you seen this affect the way you do business?” Chances are high that the person you are interviewing saw that article as well and it can lead to a good discussion.
4. Ask for an informational interview
Once you have found several companies you like and hopefully, connected with them at various events, go ahead and ask for an informational interview. You might approach it like this: “Ms. Smith, you and I have met several times at various conferences and I am very interested in the work you do and your company. I would like to learn more about it. Do you some time in the next week or two that you and I can sit down and talk for 30 minutes so I can ask you some questions about your company and the industry?” Most people will gladly meet with you if you approach them in a professional manner.You need to be sure you have questions prepared. Here are some good examples of questions you might want to ask :
- Can you tell me about your own experience with the company/organization?
- What was your first job in your career?
- What kinds of qualities do you usually look for in employees?
- What type of training do you offer new employees?
- What does it take to advance in the field?
- What aspects of your job provide you with the most satisfaction? The least?
- Has your company hired Missouri graduates before? How have they done?
- What do you see ahead for your company/organization in the next ten years?
- What are your plans for expanding the ______department?
- Do you have an internship program here?
- If I was interested in getting an internship or a job here, what steps would I need to take?
The more of these types of interviews you do, the better you will get at them, but if you practice ahead of time you should. If your campus has a career center they usually have people you can practice with. If you aren’t on a campus ask a few friends for help and practice with them.
Take a list of written questions and take good notes during the interview.
5. Thank you note
Within 24 hours after completing the interview, send a hand-written thank-you note to the person you met with. This often overlooked step can make a big impression.There are other steps you should take as well, including having a great resume and cover letter, getting good reference letters and others. The 5-steps listed above and a great start that should help you get an informational interview and impress the person you are meeting with.For more information see a specialist at a career center. The University of Missouri’s excellent career center can be found here: http://career.missouri.edu/career-services.
Ryan Law, M.S., CFP®, AFC®
Personal Financial Planning Department
University of Missouri Office for Financial Success
 Most questions came from the MU Career Center’s excellent resource about interviewing: http://career.missouri.edu/pdfs/handouts/2011Guide%20to%20Interviewing.pdf