She was assigned to take me back to the hotel after a full day of interviews, and though I was tired and a little cranky after so much people time, I decided to use our drive together to gather more information about the company. I asked all the questions I really wanted to know the answers to: “What is the company culture like? Do you feel valued in your work? What’s your favorite/least favorite thing about working here?”
And later on, when I felt more comfortable, I finally asked what I really wanted to know the answer to: “What is it like being the only one?”
I felt safe to ask these questions because she came off as authentic. She had positive things to say, but I also appreciated her for talking about all the things that weren’t perfect too: the microaggressions, the department drama, the mostly homogenous environment that made her feel like her Black body and skin did not belong. I was glad that she was chosen to be my driver, especially because I knew that if I accepted this position, I would be joining her in the trenches. We would do what I’ve done with so many POC and queer friends before at work; we would send each other supportive glances across board room tables, we would process what so-and-so did yet again over wine and cheese.
By the time we reached the hotel it was pitch black outside, so black you could see the stars. I nearly sprinted out of the car, so excited to be alone to process the day, and just as I was getting out, she called my name and said something I will never forget.
“Look, Tiara, I really don’t think you should come work here.”
I felt my stomach clench — anxiety crept up my shoulders. I wondered, was it me? Did she think I wasn’t good enough?
“To be completely honest…” she continued. “I think you’ll be bored here. And even more than that, I don’t know if you’ll receive the support you’ll need here. I just wanted to give you my honest opinion. ”
We were quiet for a minute — what she said still orbiting the air. And then, I broke the silence, saying the only thing I could think to say: “Thank you SO much.”
According to Wikipedia (my past professors would kill me), an informational interview is a “meeting in which a potential job seeker seeks advice on their career, industry, and the corporate culture of a potential future workplace.” The informational interview process typically involves several steps.
1. Reach out to a professional who can give you awesome insight into a company you would like to work for (some ways to find these awesome professionals: LinkedIn, your college alumni portal, at a networking event, through a mutual friend or connection, through social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, etc.)
2. Conduct an informational interview — an in person, phone, or video call meeting where you come with questions about their career path, the company you’re interested in, their favorite podcasts, and whatever else you’d like to know.
3. Send an awesome personalized thank you note or email. Feel free to be specific when you show gratitude — mention your biggest takeaways and express an interest in continuing to connect.
4. Maintain the connection — check in with them every few months and keep them updated about your career achievements. Add them on LinkedIn and if you end up getting an interview at their company, then let them know!
Though I talk about informational interviews all the time as a Career Coach, I only realized recently that my experience in the story above was an informational interview. That realization has led me to think more critically about what informational interviews can mean to job seekers who have been forced to navigate workplaces that were not created with their bodies in mind. Until we abolish these systems, we have to learn how to navigate them, and the informational interview can act as a powerful tool to empower ourselves. Here’s how.
Get the 411 on the Employer
Though we’ve already discussed some different ways to vet if an employer is a good fit for you and your needs, informational interviews can give us insight into how an employer treats their employees, especially employees from marginalized backgrounds. Luckily in the story above, I was warned away from an employer who would not have met my needs, and luckily (in this case) I had the option to turn down an employer that would not have been a good fit for me. Make sure to ask critical questions during informational interviews. If you feel like someone is open, ask them if they feel valued, heard, and seen by their employer.
Cultivate a Community
Every time you reach out to someone for an informational interview, you are adding them to your network and cultivating a community that can support and encourage you throughout your career journey. Informational interviews have led to amazing conversations about race queer equality, decolonization, and a host of other topics that I would have never been introduced to had I not reached out and tried to make connections. And often many of these folks connected me with people they thought I could learn more from. Not only can this community lead to amazing opportunities, they can lead to the supportive squad you’ll need as you have to navigate less than ideal work environments.
Create Representation for Yourself
For at least two full semesters in college, my biggest career dream was to be a full time traveler and freelance writer. I imagined myself in a new country every week, writing on the beach- my only interactions with people through a little camera on my laptop. That semester, I made it my mission to make connections with at least 10 people who were doing this work and I was intentional about prioritizing interviews with women of color and LGBTQ folks. I had a great coffee chat with a Black National Geographic writer when I was traveling in Scandinavia and I Skyped in between classes with a queer, Latinx travel writer who was making her way through West Africa. These conversations showed me what possibilities could exist for my own career and modeled the “pay it forward” attitude that I strive to embody in my professional career.
Sooo, what are you waiting for? Make a list of ten professionals who inspire you and reach out to them to connect today. We have the tools to uplift and provide protection for each other, and informational interviews are a great way to start that process.