Kathy is a marketing professor at St. Lawrence College. Prior to that, she worked in marketing for various fortune 500 companies and not-for-profits before moving to Kingston and starting her own marketing company. Along the way, she has mastered the art of the information interview. For those of you who have been following the rest of the series, that is exactly what I have been doing! I thought it would be a good idea to some tips and tricks to improve my interviews. Kathy also has some interesting thoughts on living and working in Kingston. So sit down and buckle up, as I interview an interviewer on how to properly interview interviewees.
Why conduct an information interview?
Kathy: The information is a personal marketing and job search tool. It is a way of meeting and connecting to people informally. I describe information interviews as targeted networking leading to a job. This is done in the form of a relaxed, low pressure chat. It works because people don’t often get a chance to talk about themselves, and very often, no one ever really listens. That’s why you hear of people falling in love with their shrink! The information interview is a bit of a sales technique, but if you are genuinely interested in the person you interview, you’ll get them feeling better about themselves and better about you.
How Kathy uses information Interviews
For my St. Lawrence students, I have them conduct an information interview as an assignment in my course. The focus is on basic skills. They have to search for and research a company for a potential fit, and then they have to actually phone someone instead of emailing them. Younger people these days tend to communicate by text, email, and social media, so for a lot of the students this is the scariest assignment of their college career! I have them conduct an interview right before they need to get a work placement, with the idea that they can parlay the interview into a placement or even a job. It is also useful for my students because there are hundreds of job titles in the marketing field. There are too many choices, so they can learn what the different jobs are like. For example they could interview a publicist, a general marketer, or a community manager and compare.
Personally, I used information interviews to build up my client base in Kingston. When I first moved here, I spent a lot time integrating myself in the community by joining organizations such as the Kingston Technology Council, the Women’s Professional Network, and others. If I met someone interesting in one of these organizations, I would set up an interview to learn more about them. I had a small marketing consultancy with three staff, and all my work was through word of mouth. I still have to turn business away!
How to conduct the interview
I recommend preparing 10-12 questions prior to the interview. You’ll probably only get to ask 3 or so, depending on how the conversation goes, but that’s fine! I encourage asking positive, open ended questions. A good lead question that gets the conversation rolling on a good note, would be something like “what do you like about your job”. If you’re interested in their career, another good question would be, “What is a day in your life like?” Recently, at St. Lawrence, I have started getting my students take the next step, and write up the interviews online on either the school of business or their own personal blogs. I also have them establish an active twitter presence, promoting their work (including interviews) and just generally being interactive. The final step in the interview is to ask “who should I talk to next?” This is vital, whether it is for a job search or to expand your business.
Specific tips for samrogers.com
First off, since you’re publishing your interviews, you need a name for the project. If you want it to be an effective marketing tool, you should brand it, to give it some cache. Blogging the interviews is a good idea, and takes the experience to the next level, so you should keep doing that.
You have to make sure the people you meet know what you’re doing, so you can access their network. You don’t want to be pitchy. If you are interviewing someone you should keep the focus on them. That being said, you should also make yourself, and what you do, easy to find on your website and easy to find on LinkedIn. You should also either bring it up during the conversation or in a follow up. If you are interviewing someone in your field, you should provide white papers on specific areas that could be of interest to them. I have my students ask, at the very end of the interview the following question: “I’ve become an expert in (insert field or skill), do you know anyone that could use that?” You should do the same. It will give you the opportunity to explain your services and access your subjects’ networks.
Working in Kingston
One thing I’m really good at is being a connector, and Kingston is a great city for that. If you know five key strategic people you can have access to most business opportunities in Kingston. If you are a 30-60 year old professional, it is a very small city. If you want to meet someone, chances are they will know someone you know, so when you meet you can form an instant connection. I found there is good support from other women in town, and I found they were willing to help out through mentorship and business referral.
Living in Kingston
When I moved to Kingston, I fell in love, never having been here before. Really, I absolutely love it. The downtown is great; a lot of people don’t appreciate just how good it is. I like walking through the Sydenham Ward, looking at houses and stopping in the stores, restaurants and shops. Kingston feels like a smaller town than it really is. Nobody’s really a stranger, and it feels like a small community where people really want to work with and see local people succeed.
One thing I’ve found is that people don’t always want to hire the cheapest or even the most qualified person or company. They want to do business with someone they like. So don’t be a jerk.
Great advice, and some good interview techniques. Thanks!