The Information Interview: A Crash Course in Networking

You know the old saying, “it’s not what you know, but who you know.” While this saying has been around for a long time, I think it is relevant now more than ever. In an age where companies can head hunt prospective employees at the click of a few buttons, getting your name out there is extremely important. Making connections in your chosen industry is perhaps the most important skill that’s often not being taught in classrooms today.

Fortunately, in our Placement and Career Readiness class we’re taught how to properly network and shown the value of doing so. This culminates in an “information interview” with an industry professional who holds a position similar to one we would one day like to hold, or someone who works at a company we think is interesting.

For my information interview I was fortunate to have a meeting with Rob Howard, a Senior Strategist at Cult Collective LTD, located in Kingston. I initially chose Cult as my target because I heard about them at a Kingston mixer. After learning more about them I was interested in how they approach helping brands redefine themselves.

So I wrote to Rob and explained that I was a student at St. Lawrence College in the Advertising & Marketing Communications program and I was interested in learning more about the industry, exploring a potential placement opportunity and developing my local network. This process was pretty smooth for me; Rob graciously agreed to meet with me.

I met with Rob at the Cult office here in Kingston the following week. I showed up armed with questions about the advertising industry, about Cult in particular and about Rob’s career path. While we did eventually cover all of these topics, the conversation was much more natural than me reading a question and Rob answering. We actually had a conversation that went in many different directions and gave me more insight than I could have hoped for with my five questions alone. It was great, and I learned a lot about Cult and Rob’s position as a Senior Strategist there.

The unexpected part was when Rob started asking me questions about my interests and what type of career I’d like to explore. I answered to the best of my ability and Rob offered insightful advice about which companies to look up and follow.

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For me, there were two key takeaways from my meeting with Rob. One, which is the basis of this post, is that who you know is very important. Many times, people who are able to get their name out there and create a large professional network are able to find employment without even applying for jobs. This is something we have been told many times from all of our teachers, but hearing from professionals in the industry just seemed to drive it home even more.

The second takeaway that I got from my meeting with Rob is this: keep reading and keep learning. The advertising industry such an interesting industry and there’s so much out there. It is important for us to continue to learn about the topics that interest in order for us to grow professionally. The advertising industry is constantly evolving these days, and so too must our skill set. In 20 years the skills I’ve learned in college will not be enough. It is important for us to continue to evolve alongside the industry, to continue to grow our knowledge base. Not only is this great for personal development, but this will also make us an asset to a company. If I have taken the time to learn and understand something that a colleague has not, then I will have more value to a company.

Of course when the interview was over I thanked Rob for his time and the valuable insight he had given me. Now, when I am reading an article about something industry related I always think back to my meeting with Rob and the advice he gave me. Perhaps when I find something particularly relevant I will tweet at him and maintain our connection, because you never know, he may be a valuable resource to me in the future.

The value of my conversation with Rob is not lost on me. I have already taken his advice and started reading about industry trends much more than I used to. I’ve started following companies on Twitter which post regularly about major trends and news in the advertising world. I’ve also continued to grow my professional network through LinkedIn and other sources. I think the information interview process is a great way for students to explore career and placement options.

At first I was hesitant to be contacting an industry professional, as were many of my classmates, but this process has helped us all grow as individuals and realize that they are human just like us and not so intimidating as we had thought. It forces us out of our comfort zone and we’re all the better for it.

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