You need to research what you’ll ask. You’ll be leading the conversation, so you need to be prepared in order to avoid awkward silence and also to show respect for the person’s time who you’re meeting with. Look up the person’s information on LinkedIn and research where they work. If you’re meeting with someone who works at an agency, write down major clients and research case studies.
Here are some general questions and ones that are specific to an agency or corporate meeting. (Because of my college major and profession choice, these questions are focused mostly on a career in PR.)
• How did you get started in public relations?
• What does a typical day look like for you?
• What sort of projects are you currently working on?
• What are the greatest joys and challenges about your job?
• What do you wish you would have known when you were a college senior?
• Do you have any suggestions as to how I could improve my portfolio? (This obviously follows the presentation of your portfolio.)
• Is there anyone else that you think would be beneficial for me to meet with? If you’re given names and contact information, ask, “May I tell them that you referred me?
• What are some trends that you see changing the industry? The obvious answer will be Social Media, so be prepared to have an in depth conversation about this.
• I read through —– case and was really impressed by what you were able to do for them. What made that campaign so successful? Look up their clients and read through case studies. Have follow-up questions prepared.
• Do the executives of this company believe and really invest in public relations?
• How many people work in your department? How has that changed over the years you’ve been here? This will provide some insight into how they’re doing as a result from the recession.
• How has incorporating social media into your PR changed your conversation with key publics?
• How do “soon-to-be college graduates” like me get started in an industry like this?
One of the main things I learned from informational interviews is that the quality of the questions you ask is important for your education on the industry and the person you’re meeting with. It also often directly correlates to the amount to which you will impress the person you’re meeting with. I found certain questions provided great insight. Who you’re meeting with should shape your questions and steer the conversation.
Remember to stay curious. Listen carefully, take notes and ask follow-up questions.
When the meeting is over, thank the person and convey your appreciation. Once you get home, sit down, reference your notes and write a thoughtful hand-written thank you note (I always use personal stationary for professional uses), enclose your calling card, add a stamp and mail it that same day. So few people take the time to write thank you notes that people will take notice. When job hunting, it’s really the little things that add up and can put you at an advantage over other candidates. Especially in the communications industry, you need to show that you are a good communicator in every way.