For us writers, we’re still in a recession, employers are difficult, jobs in the industry are disappearing as I type, and the Beanie Babies we invested in are now practically worthless on eBay. So, it’s tough times. And what makes it worse, again, for writers, is that no one in the business really wants to read your stuff unless your father runs the Los Angeles Times, and even then the attraction is wholly based on self-interest.
But there are the odd moments when a friend comes through or the planets do an odd dance, and you do get a “meeting” with an industry professional. Obviously, this will probably be billed as an “informational interview” and not a job, but it’s a first step, so take it.
As an old pro at these things, I’m going to tell you some things to do at these interviews. Hopefully this advice is helpful, obviously it comes from much experience.
1. Show up on time. As Woody Allen once said, “90% of life is just showing up,” and believe you me, if you get there late that percentage takes its toll on your overall average. So, showing up late is like failing a final, you may still pass that class, but barely. Because there are so many other variables to a successful meeting, getting that 90% can be the insurance points that lead to another meeting. Fine, anything can go wrong in the face-to-face, but making the meeting saves some sweat. You will even feel better, strolling to a meeting on time, and trust me, the nervousness of being late can ruin your confidence and make the meeting a total dud.
2. Come prepared. Bring questions, a resume, and a foreknowledge of who this person is and what he or she does. The preparation will show you are on top of things, not a flake, and ready for a serious conversation. Plus, a sheet of good questions will give you something to talk about when the conversation drags. A clear, crisp resume, just in case the professional asks for it, is invaluable. Again, treat it like a class. Would you come into English 301 without the homework? If you answered yes, then you should seriously rethink your career choice.
3. Have a positive attitude. Nothing can end a meeting faster than a downer. This is human psychology, people. Anyone can dismiss a drag and feel no remorse, but being mean to a really happy, enthusiastic person will make the interviewee feel like a cynical jerk. So, you may get five more minutes of face time just because he or she doesn’t want to “let you down.” Note: I know many people get nervous at these sorts of things and act strangely and that’s normal. My best advice is not to sweat it, remember, the better prepared you are, the more questions you will have to ask, and the less time you will have to fret (Rule 2).
4. Remember, informational interview means you are doing the interviewing. Don’t just talk on and on about your life, ask your interviewee about his or hers. The best way to get anyone interested is to move the topic to that person. Sure, their lives could be truly boring, but more often than not, if they have made it this far, they’ve probably had a few detours, setbacks, and flat tires. Ask them about those. Don’t be shy. And talk. This may be your only opportunity to ever get in that door again.
5. Always network. The assistants, other interns, and office staff are all in this industry because they want to work in entertainment and all of them have the same goals and aspirations as you do (except they are a bit ahead of the curve). So, get their contacts and make sure to write nice thank you notes to them too. They may be more accessible, easier to talk to, and honestly, better resources, for they too have embarked on a career recently and know some of the ropes.
6. My final rule, don’t promote your own stuff too readily. There is no quicker way to end a meeting than to start hawking your wares. It’s crude, sounds like soliciting, and probably not useful to them anyway. Let them guide you along that path if they are interested but don’t bring it up all willy nilly. This will land you in their “Do Not Contact Bin” faster than a dud sitcom on a network.
Oh, and write a thank you note! Why not, right? If you never hear back from the interviewee again, don’t fret either. It’s all about having the chutzpah to make the interview in the first place that will get you to where you need to be. Remember that Woody Allen quote? It works. Or, rather, I hope it works.
One more note: please be careful. If the “industry professional” asks you to meet at his or her home, it could be dangerous and I would recommend against it. However connected or famous, this person is still a stranger. Instead, suggest a public place, like a café. You want to meet people, but you also want to do your best to stay safe.
Comments from others who have been through the process are appreciated.