A guide for mid-career informational interviews for marketing technologists

Martech Informational Interview

This guest post by Erica Seidel is part of a regular column she writes, Ask the Martech Recruiter. Erica runs The Connective Good, a retained executive recruiting firm that helps companies land leaders in martech, marketing, digital strategy, analytics, and market research.

Dear Erica,

I have 10 years of digital marketing experience and want to switch to a pure martech role. I have reached out to a few people to ask for informational interviews. But few have gotten back to me. And isn’t informational interviewing more for people who are starting out in their careers, anyway?

Thanks,
Ella, New Jersey

Dear Ella,

So you’re no longer the young college grad eagerly soaking up insights from the more experienced people who love to give a leg up to the next generation. But informational conversations in mid-career are alive and well too!

And there is now one thing in your favor you didn’t have 10 years ago: you can now give back.

Earlier, you were a sponge and it wasn’t expected for you to meaningfully reciprocate. But by this point in your career, I’m guessing that you have a decent network of people. You’ve likely learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. You have stuff to share!

It’s amazing how few people realize this. Maybe they are just focused on their own needs. Or maybe they don’t think they can help someone else. After all, we tend to overvalue the things we aren’t good at yet, and undervalue the things we do effortlessly.

So here are my tips for asking for — and running — an informational meeting.

1) First, get out of the mindset of being the supplicant who’s kneeling at the feet of the wizard with all the answers.

Instead, assume the peer-to-peer approach, and figure out what value you can bring to the conversation. Especially in the space where marketing meets technology, you don’t necessarily needs years and years of experience to have useful ideas and war stories to share.

2) Offer something of value when you make your ask.

Here’s a sample outreach you can use to ask for an informational meeting.

Dear ________,

Charlotte Checker mentioned your name to me and said you’re one of the smartest martech folks around. Are you up for a brief networking chat, please? Since I’m exploring next steps, I’d like to hear your perspective on leading martech with a digital marketing background and how you made that transition.

And I read in AdAge that you’re launching a personalization initiative. I was recently tapped to lead a personalization strategy and have started picking vendors. Happy to share what I’ve learned with you to help save you some time.

Next Tuesday looks good on my end; how about you?

Thanks,
Ella

3) Manage the meeting.

Here’s a framework for managing an informational meeting. Hat tip to one of my coaches, Bill Varnell, who taught me this framework:

  1. Greetings.
  2. Confirm the amount of time you will spend together. If the person only has 20 minutes rather than the 45 minutes you had planned on, you will need to prioritize.
  3. c) Propose an agenda. You asked for this meeting; now manage it well. For instance:

    “I’d like to take a few minutes to introduce myself to you in more detail and why I am excited to meet with you. Then I’d love to hear more about you. Next, I have 3 particular questions for you. After that, we can look over the personalization documents I mentioned over email, since you were interested in those. At the end, I would love to hear your recommendations on three other people you think I should meet. And I imagine I may be able to point you in useful directions too.”

    Of course, your meeting may feel less formal than this. But leading with a clear agenda shows that you are organized and that you value the other person’s time and contributions as well as your own. Remember that many martech people are introverted, so they may doubly appreciate you taking the reins at the beginning of your relationship.

  4. Run the meeting as per the above.
  5. Ask, “Who else do you think I should meet, based on our conversation?” (Since you previewed this question earlier, the person will likely have been considering this question in the background as you’ve been talking.)
  6. Find a way to help the other person. Proactively helping is better than saying, “How can I help you?” But the person will appreciate it even if you do default to that question. It shows you are reciprocal.
  7. Thank them and wrap up on time.
  8. Follow up. Of course, you’ll send a quick note after the meeting. But you’ll really differentiate yourself by staying in touch over time, building a relationship.

    Here’s an example: Let’s say that when you meet “Chris” for an informational conversation, Chris recommends you speak with “Sally.” When you ultimately meet with Sally, let Chris know that you did meet Sally. This shows that you can follow through, and it can open up further dialogue with Chris.

A note: Realize that this giving and taking can be culturally dependent. I once did a lot of work in Spain. A Spanish alum from my business school kindly agreed to give me the lay of the land on doing business in Spain. We met up; I learned a lot. At the end, I said, “This has been so helpful. How can I help you?” And he said, “Since we are discussing Spanish business practices, let me stop you there. Asking right away how you can help me is a very American thing. In Spain, we take more of a long-term view of business relationships. So pay it forward, help someone else. And I trust that our paths will connect again in the future.”

What other networking tips do you have for the mid-career marketing technologist? Please chime in with a comment.

Have a question on recruiting or career transitions to propose for this column? Please email erica@theconnectivegood.com. Don’t worry, we’ll keep your name and company confidential.

Readers: Erica is on the board of advisors of the MarTech conference. She will be leading an executive session at our upcoming event San Francisco, May 9-11, with a panel of CMOs: How Chief Marketers From Visa, Belkin, and Oracle Are Transforming Their Teams and Talent. Register today for the lowest “alpha” rate on tickets to guarantee your seat.

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