Welcome to Washington, What Do You Do?

How to Get the Most out of Informational Interviews

By Laura Gross, Principal and Founder of Scott Circle Communications

“What do you do?” From networking events to first dates, that is perhaps the question that begins many conversations here in Washington, D.C. More often than not the underlying question is actually “who do you know?” or “how can you help me?” Unfortunately, people seem to be more interested in leveraging themselves than establishing an authentic human connection. I have seen this over and over again in the infamous informational interview.

With an established career in PR in the same city for over two decades, I have plenty of experience to share which is why I suppose I’ve been frequently called to give advice. I’ve received requests from all sorts of people: recent grads who just moved to D.C. looking for a job, college students debating a career in PR, senior professionals deciding whether to go out on their own as a consultant and job seekers too – especially job seekers.

I know why people contact me and I genuinely want to be helpful (in fact I average one informational meeting each week). So, in the spirit of being helpful, here are some suggestions on how to truly get the most out of an informational interview and make the most of someone’s time.

Whats Your Goal?

The first question I always ask is: What can I help you with? If you asked for the meeting, you should have a good substantive answer. Do you want to learn about my career path? Do you want to know more about how to do PR in DC? Do you want feedback on your resume? Use this informational interview to do exactly that: interview me to gather information.

Be Presentable

If you are looking for career advice or networking for a job, prove that you belong in the workforce. It seems like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how often people come dressed casually and not prepared. You should arrive on time, if not a few minutes early. And dress professionally too – you don’t know what type of office you are showing up to. The more you can show that you have made an effort to present your best self, the more likely you are to leave the interview having left a good first impression.

Bring a Resume

Yes, you might have sent me an email with your resume when you requested a meeting, but I get hundreds of emails every day. Always bring a copy of your typo-free resume with you to show you are one step ahead. I often take notes on the resume, which then sits on my desk for a while. You will be top of mind if I see a relevant job posting that might come my way.

Come Prepared

With one Google search, you can find out almost anything about anyone. What is my firm all about? What is my background? You already know these answers, so how can I actually be helpful? A better question to ask me is what do I look for in a candidate? What is the interview process like at your firm? Do you mind looking at my resume and giving me feedback?

Write a Thank You Note or Email

I’m not looking for the next best seller – I just want a simple thank you email or handwritten note (bonus points for handwritten!).

Follow-up

Let me know what happened to you. Did you get a job? An internship? Decide not to pursue PR after all? Finding success in Washington and other cities often revolves around who you know. Future jobs and opportunities are all about connections, so it will only benefit you in the long run to keep in touch with someone you met. And maybe, just maybe, one day you’ll be the one paying it forward and I’ll be the one requesting an informational interview with you.

About the Author: Laura Gross (@lgross) is Principal and Founder of Scott Circle Communications (@scottcircle), a full service public relations firm based in Washington, D.C. with a mission to make the world a better place.

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Client on a Roll? Help Them Slow It.

I’m talking about a spokesperson being on a roll during a press interview with relevant and tangible information being rapid-fire peppered at a reporter.  Most people in leadership and subject matter experts can talk for days on their given topics, right?

That, however, doesn’t mean that they should.  In fact, it’s often counterproductive and doesn’t allow for a natural back and forth in the interview process.  As public relations pros, we need to prepare spokespeople for media interviews.

I recently interviewed a CIO for a freelance article I was writing. While he was knowledgeable and well-spoken, he truly never stopped talking.  I was struggling to keep up and capture the good points he was making in quote form.

I even asked him to slow down and repeat a key point, which he then couldn’t remember.  Not only did he not slow down his pace of speech, he also kept shooting words out fire-hose style which only made the exchange more difficult and annoying.

Effective spokespersons are true story tellers who are adept at speaking in sound-byte form – leaving time for the reporter to take good notes and either follow up or move on to their next question.  All of this takes practice AND preparation – as well as timely reminders from PR folks like us.

Not every client wants or even needs full-scale media training. If you are the one prepping a spokesperson then you can showcase your added value by some quick, ad-hoc interview prep reminders prior to an interview so they are top of mind.

Agree to get the client on the line about 10 minutes before the interview and first do a quick review of talking points and pivots for possible tough questions.  Then set them at ease and get their media “game face” on by reminding them they need to be as human as possible to maximize this opportunity for good exposure.

Basic interview tips to share:

  • Talk much slower than normal – if it sounds unnatural or strange, you’re doing it right.
  • Try to speak in three sentence increments when answering questions.
  • It helps to repeat the question to buy time to formulate a strong and concise response.
  • REMINDER: dead air is ok and don’t feel obliged to keep talking just because there is silence.
  • Avoid language like, “First of all” or “As you know…”
  • Steer clear of industry jargon and acronyms.
  • DO NOT add a new thought if a reporter asks, “Is there anything else to add?” Either emphasize your most important point or you’re all done!

If you are on the phone staffing the interview, you want to remain on the sidelines as best you can. You can interject at the end if there is something you think needs clarifying or defining if some jargon creeps into the discussion.

Securing the interview is the hard part but prepping the source so they can shine in the process is crucial to actually generating positive coverage – the ultimate goal.

By Scott Frank, President, ARGO Communications and former Senior Director, Media Relations for the American Institute of Architects

How to Rock a Job Interview and Make a Lasting Impression

Did you know that a potential employer can determine a lot about you as a person within twenty seconds of meeting you just based on your appearance? Or, that smiling during a job interview is not only good for making an impression but it also reduces stress hormones? Truth be told, I didn’t either until I attended “How to Make a Lasting Impression,” an event hosted by the National Capital Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.

The event featured three panelists who discussed their unique but very similar areas of expertise: Kate Perrin of PRofessional Solutions, LLC who explained the importance of well-written cover letters, detailed resumes, and the power of networking; Robin Fisher of Polished Image and Style who discussed the impact your attire can have in the job market; and Denise Graveline, a social media consultant and speaker trainer who presented on the do’s and don’ts of a job interview.

At the conclusion of the event, attendees were able to walk away with new tips to assist with job searching, etiquette in the workplace and personal image and style. The tips outlined below are my favorite takeaways from the event and can be helpful to any working professional:

Always include a cover letter. A cover letter is an important part of the application process because it allows you to elaborate on key points from your resume and it also shows your potential employer that you are a good writer. Even if the job application only requires a resume, send a cover letter as well – either as a separate attachment on the application’s website or via email.

Have a detailed but concise resume. There is nothing worse than a resume that offers an explanation that is general and unclear. For example, “I managed media relations for the firm in 2012.” Going into more detail will be helpful. “I managed media relations for The FUN Foundation that included media hits in the Washington Post and The New York Times.”

Network, network, network! As the old saying goes, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” and this can be true. If you are referred to a job by one of the company’s current employees, your resume will automatically be sent to the top, bettering your chances of landing an interview (and hopefully the job).

Wear your size and your color. It is safe to say that we all come in different shapes, tones and sizes, so our clothes should too. What looks nice on your friend may not look as nice on you because of the differences in your body but rest assured that it is okay! What’s more important is wearing clothes that flatter your figure and staying true to your size and skin tone. You will look better and feel comfortable.

Connect your personality and your style. When job seekers are called in for an interview, they usually wear the typical black suit and white shirt. While this is safe, it is okay to incorporate a splash of your personality into your style. Consider wearing a pastel colored shirt with the black suit or throw in colorful but subtle accessories to make your outfit pop.

Smile! Smiling boosts your serotonin and serotonin influences your mood. Smiling also reduces stress hormones so when you’re nervous and fidgety before an interview, give the hiring manager your best smile to help dry off those sweaty palms and ease your nerves.

Three options are better than one. When you’re asked to describe your skills in a job interview, give the interviewer three options and let them decide which point they want you to elaborate on.

Be meaningful and memorable. When you give the interviewer those three options, consider telling a story or using alliteration. For example, if you’re asked to describe yourself, you can respond with alliteration by saying, “I’m intelligent, innovative and independent.” The interview is your stage. Show your potential employer what is meaningful to you and give them something to remember.

Good luck!

Jenna Boyer is an account executive at Hager Sharp Inc., a public relations firm in Washington, D.C. In her role, Boyer supports a variety of clients and assists with social media, graphic design, media outreach, and partnership development. Boyer received a Bachelor of Arts in media studies and a minor in Spanish from the Catholic University of America.