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Informational Interview Etiquette

Emerging Op-Eds is a community series that shares opinions and tips from our NEMPN members. Have an idea or a topic you’d like to share? Submit your idea here.


Informational Interview Etiquette:
7 Steps for Making the Most of the Meeting
by Elisha Mantegna

Perhaps you’re considering a career change, or you’re completing a degree or educational program and want to get a feel for the museum/non-profit field. In a variety of situations an informational interview is an essential tool that can provide you not only with career-shaping insights but with an increased network of resources on which to draw as you move forward. There are a number of key steps to getting and navigating an informational interview. This is not designed to be a complete guide as situations will vary, but hopefully it can provide a foundation to help you plan your next moves.

1. Initial Research
Setting up an informational interview will take a bit of research. A broad-to-narrow approach is most practical: Start by identifying the company that most interests you, then the department, then look at who in that department does the work most closely related to your background or future goals. There may be a public directory with contact information, but if there isn’t there may be a direct line you can call and specifically mention you are seeking an informational interview.

  • Don’t be vague: “I’m looking for someone in [Department]” may sound as though you are uncertain and unprepared. Instead, be as specific as possible: “I am interested in the work being done within [Institution]’s [Department], and I am hoping to set up an informational interview with someone there to speak more about this work. If you can’t provide that information over the phone I would be happy to leave my contact information.” 
  • Make sure you have a professional (or at least not unprofessional) e-mail and voicemail message. Many sites will allow you to create secondary accounts linked to your primary account. Sticking with initials or first and last names makes it easiest. The same goes for your phone’s answering message. Short, sweet, to the point, and a catch all message is best.

2. Identification and Affiliation
State your intentions early and clearly. If communicating in e-mail form, make the title “Informational Interview Request” or something similarly clear. Make sure you include in the message body your scholastic or professional affiliations or career interests. People in public institutions and non-profits get cold calls from the public frequently. My former professors used to joke about strangers making appointments only to ask about selling antiquities or getting appraisals of “rare” and “mysterious” objects (which were usually neither rare nor mysterious).

3. Dress Accordingly
You are not going to a job interview, but you are meeting with a professional. Avoid jeans and break out the iron. A nice shirt and blazer/jacket, a blouse or sweater, ironed slacks or skirts, etc. If you are a light traveler and aren’t carrying any kind of case or bag you should have a notebook in which to take down interesting points and a business card and resume copy. Do not enter in to the meeting with the intention of giving the resume to the individual, but if they ask about your background or say they know someone who may be interested in your work, be ready with the necessary materials at hand.

4. Secondary Research
Prep like an interview: check social media, read reviews, and think about the organization in larger contexts. Understand that this is an opportunity for you to learn but that you will need to direct the conversation. What is different about this person’s work? This department? This organization? What choices are they making and why? What does this person think is the most valuable skill for this work, the most important goal, or the industry trend? Ask personal questions as well – what has been most challenging for them, or rewarding, or surprising? You should have a list of multiple questions laid out and you can follow up as need be – but on the same hand don’t throw one hundred questions at your interviewee. A list of 4-8 key questions that vary in complexity and topic should be enough to give you a solid platform from which to approach the meeting.

5. BE PROMPT!
The adage “Early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable” should be your mantra. You are meeting with someone who has taken time out of their work day to speak with you and to assist you in your own professional development. There is a camaraderie in the field and a willingness to cooperate and exchange, but you have no idea what this person’s day looks like. You may be fit between other meetings, met with over lunch, or given a large stretch of an open afternoon. Be early. If you arrive 5-10 minutes early, check in with building security and wait for your interviewee to meet you, or follow any given directions and aim to arrive at their office just prior to the meeting time. If you’re like me and your preparations leave you at the building with half an hour to spare, check in with security and let them know you are there for a meeting but would like to take a look around first as you are a bit early. This gives you the opportunity to familiarize yourself with the gallery or building and when you meet with your interviewee and they ask “have you been here before?” you can say “no, but I arrived early and had a look around at ____”. (If it’s an office building and you can’t go anywhere without an escort but have arrived early, I suggest re-reading notes, fine tuning your questions, or walking around the block so that you aren’t inconveniently early).

6. Follow Up
Thank-you cards or follow-up emails are a MUST! Buy a simple pack of blank thank-you cards. Take the blank cards with you with pre-stamped envelopes. Immediately after the interview or within 24 hours fill out the card. Make it personal. “Thank you so much for your time. I am so happy to hear your opinions on ___” or “Your experiences and perspective were greatly valued”. Acknowledge their impact. “I hope we can continue to correspond” or “I look forward to becoming a colleague of yours in the industry/field”. I am personally very British in my approach to messages and typically conclude with “Warmest Regards” or “Sincerest Thanks”. Mail that card as soon as possible so it arrives within 3-4 days. If you interact with someone remotely, ensure that you send a follow-up e-mail with thanks.

7. Moving Forward
These interviews should be set up to build relationships and to seek guidance, and ideally, they will be the start of larger networking efforts and not one-offs. Regular periodic check-ins are good ways to keep lines of communication open. Follow up on topics they mentioned, keep them updated on your progress (briefly!) and always be polite. If you come across an article or piece of news that you think would interest them based on your interactions then forward it along, and in response they will be much more likely to do the same in return. I have had internal contract openings forwarded to me, which have led to jobs or consulting work from individuals I met through informational interviews.

Understand that this is not an opportunity for you to get a job, nor is it a way of sneaking in around the job application process. This is about actively seeking guidance and making yourself known, but also learning about the industry directly in real-world settings. You should view yourself as an industry professional meeting with a potential colleague, and understand that you have valuable resources to contribute to these kinds of meetings. You are speaking with someone whom you likely admire or respect for their work – which you should express – but they are also human and were once starting out in the same fashion as you, so don’t let yourself feel diminished or vastly outranked. In the end it is a conversation, and they will likely be just as interested in your fresh perspective, particularly if your background or base of work is different from their own, as you are regarding their seasoned impressions.

Happy Interviewing!



2018 (2)
Elisha Mantegna is a museum education and conservation professional who has previously worked within institutions such as the Smithsonian and V&A. Her past research has examined the impacts of 3D scanning and digitization within museums, and she is currently a contractor within the Museum of the Bible Education Department in Washington, D.C. Contact Elisha at emmantegna@gmail.com. 

 

 

 

Networking in a New City

Emerging Op-Eds is a community series that shares opinions and tips from our NEMPN members. Have an idea or a topic you’d like to share? Submit your idea here.


Networking in a New City
by Cassandra Cavness

Being an emerging professional often means moving for your first “real” job. Moving can be nerve-wracking and there are many factors to consider, including how to get connected to those in your field. Museum work, much like other fields, relies heavily on networking. Being able to establish yourself in your new city is crucial for becoming an integral part of the field.

Why is networking important?

Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Networking is all about how you make people feel. Do they feel comfortable with your personality? Do they feel comfortable with your skill set and knowledge? Do they feel that they can trust your integrity and follow through? These questions often cannot be answered in one meeting but will be answered through a process of relationship building. Networking is important because it shows your ability to handle yourself and adapt to new and unfamiliar situations as you build relationships that could prove fruitful down the line.

Where to network?

Networking in your new city can seem like a daunting task, however, that’s where this blog comes in handy. Below are some great suggestions to get you started in any new city that you move to.

  • Facebook: This is a great place to start because there are plenty of Facebook groups geared toward emerging professionals.
    • NEMPN: We’re a ready-made network of people to talk to about museum related issues and theories.
    • Think local: There are often local emerging professional groups on Facebook that you can join so that you can network with professionals within your state or nearby city. These groups are great for finding out about local events and getting advice on how to handle museum issues within local parameters.
  • Networking Events: There are often local networking events that are not specifically geared toward museum professionals, but they are great opportunities. Use these events to understand how your profession fits into the fabric of the community.
  • Local Affiliation Groups: Although your town might not have local events that are directly related to your field, they will often have events geared toward similar interests. For example, if you work in an art museum, look for arts-related events in the community. These events might be hosted by your local college or non-profits, but regardless, it is a good idea to get to know those in your community that have interests similar to the mission of your museum.  
  • Local Boards: If you have more than one museum or a local art/history guild, you might have local boards that you can join. Try to become familiar with the type of educational opportunities there are for children in your city, because often times those non-profits will have boards that you can join.
  • Alumni Groups: Not every college will have nationwide alumni groups, but for those that do, take advantage of the opportunities that your local chapter gives you.

How to network:

Okay, so now you have moved, you’re all settled in and you’ve begun to find some different networking avenues. But now you’re thinking, “How do I actually network?” Although people tend to think of networking in terms of what it will get them, this isn’t the right approach. Below are 6 simple steps to networking that will get you your desired results in the long run but will also foster relationships in the immediate.

  1. Start to Network Immediately: I cannot stress this enough, do not wait until you have a need to know people in your community. This will make your effort to connect less genuine. Instead, start connecting the minute your foot touches down in your new city.
  2. Forget Your Personal Reasons: Don’t think of networking as a means to further your personal goals. People can tell when others are only there to better themselves and it is off-putting to say the least. Make this a mutual or reciprocal relationship by thinking of what you can do for others.
  3. Have a Plan/Know What You Can Offer: Treat networking like an advertisement of your skills. Don’t boast and brag but go in with the confidence of knowing what you bring to the table. During an event, try to talk to as many people as possible and get a feel for their needs. See how your skills can be an asset and offer to help.
  4. Be Friendly and Open: One of the most important parts of a networking opportunity is interacting with people. Be friendly and open to others’ ideas and suggestions, but also be open by contributing to the conversation with your knowledge and/or advice. Don’t underestimate your worth to a conversation.
  5. Think Collaboratively: Just like you don’t want to underestimate yourself in a conversation, don’t underestimate those around you. Although these people might not have the same educational background as you, that doesn’t mean that their ideas or suggestions don’t have merit. Look for ways that you could integrate what they are saying to fit your needs (whether they are personal, institutional, or academic) and how they could help you in a team-oriented way.
  6. Collect Contact Information: The most important part of networking is collecting the contact information from the people that you meet. What good does it do you to have a great conversation with someone and walk away not remembering who they were or not knowing how to contact them? Also, it is just as important for you to be able to give out your contact information as well.
    • Don’t forget to follow up and follow through! If you say you’re going to follow up with someone with an email or phonecall, do it promptly so that you are still in their mind and to reaffirm that new connection.

 

Remember…

Although these are just a few tips and tricks to networking in a new city, there are a variety of ways to engage in this important task. It is also good to remember that networking can happen anywhere at anytime if you are willing to be friendly and introduce yourself wherever you are. Take every opportunity to create relationships, because you might not get another chance.  Always keep business cards on you to hand out to people because you never know they will come in handy – a new and important relationship could be just around the corner!


nempn cavnessCassandra Cavness serves as Assistant Professor and Humanities Digital Archivist for Alabama State University and currently serves as the co-chair of the Alabama chapter of the National Emerging Professional Network. Her primary research focus is the interpretation of history through a visual lens and she has 4 years of practical experience in the fields of museum studies, public history, and cultural outreach. Previously, she has served as the manager of the Syracuse University Sue & Leon Genet Gallery and an archive and museum consultant for various nonprofit organizations.
Contact Cassandra by email: cassandra.cavness@gmail.com.

CANCELED: Ask an Expert LIVE! with John Luchin from Classic Interactions

NEMPN2017-Luchin_Ask

Join NEMPN for our next “Ask an Expert LIVE!” session on Tuesday August 22nd at 7pm EST.

This session we feature John
 Luchin, the Founder and Principal of Classic Interactions LLC, an interactive development studio based in Columbus, Ohio. Classic Interactions’ client work is focused on education applications for museums. In addition to his work with Classic Interactions, John was a federal employee for over a decade, serving as an exhibit designer and later the Chief of the Exhibits Division for the world’s oldest and largest military aviation museum.

Do you have questions about the intersection of museums, technology, and games? We want to answer them! Send your questions to nationalempnetwork@gmail.com!

Join us and watch the conversation on our National EMP Network YouTube channel.

NEMPN @ AAM 2017

Hello NEMPN-ers! The annual American Alliance of Museums (AAM) conference is taking place in St. Louis, MO this year and it’s right around the corner. We have members coming from all over the country, making this is the perfect opportunity to meet one another! Check out and use the hashtag #AAMEMP2017 to meet up with other EMPs and see what folks are saying during the conference. We hope to see you there!

Is this your first time attending a conference? Conferences can be pretty intimidating, especially large ones like AAM that are brimming with dreamy, inspiring cultural and museum professionals. This great blog provides an excellent roadmap for first-time conference attendees, or folks looking for suggestions on how to make the most out of their conference experience.

Where YOU can find NEMPN @ AAM:

NEMPN HH AAM2017

EMP Happy Hour

Sunday, May 7, 6-9pm
Urban Chestnut Brewing Company

4465 Manchester Ave, St. Louis, MO 63110

Meet and mingle with your fellow emerging museum professionals! Food and drinks will be available.

Parking: Urban Chestnut has a free parking lot. Parking lot full? No worries – metered parking around the building is free on Sundays!

Not driving? Public transportation via St. Louis Metro is an affordable and accessible alternative. Cabs or ride-sharing apps will get you there easily, too. 


NEMPN Conference Presentations:

Peer Mentoring Roundtable: Getting That First Job
Tuesday, May 9, 12-1:15pm
MuseumExpo Hall, Convention Center

Join the National Emerging Museum Professionals Network for a roundtable discussion about networking, resume writing, and other factors that go into getting that first museum job. Discuss tips and tricks and connect with fellow EMPs.

Emerging Innovators Forum: Get to Know the National Emerging Museum Professionals Network
Tuesday, May 9, 3-5pm
Convention Center

The National Emerging Museum Professionals Network (NEMPN) seeks to engage museum professionals across all stages of their careers in building vibrant communities of networking, knowledge exchange and resource sharing. The session will provide emerging professionals with resources to connect to the broader museum community. NEMPN leaders will be present to provide information about opportunities to connect with emerging professionals in locations across the U.S.


Need a roommate in St. Louis?

If you’re looking for someone to share a hotel room, check out our Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/683814921798013/