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Learning to Love “The Informational”

A surprising part of being a business student is the amount of time I now spend in coffee shops, waiting for strangers (or acquaintances) to walk in and tell me about themselves.  That’s right, the Atkinson Program is a strong proponent of “The Informational.”

ringold interviewI had heard about informationals prior to coming to Willamette, and yes, they always sounded like a good idea, but I still never did one.  That changed quickly once school started. I had barely learned what a case study was when I found myself asking people I had never met to tell me about their work experience.  Career Management Director Beth Ursin assigned each first-year five informationals in the first week!  Luckily these were with second-year students, who were easily accessible.  We got a chance to learn about their summer internships, and they gave us a small crash course on what was to come.

If you’ve never done an informational before, you may still be a little fuzzy on the concept.  Let me clear things up:

in·for·ma·tion·al noun an informal meeting with a business professional or anyone with experience in an area of interest, with the purpose of learning more about their industry/specific job/career path/life/hobbies, and making connections.  As an aspiring basket-weaver, George was thrilled to have learned so much about Mr. Johnson’s career as a master weaver during the informational, and sent a heartfelt thank-you note the very next day.

Throughout the fall, we were strongly urged to go on at least ten informationals.  I initially felt intimidated about calling or e-mailing to request an informational, and I wondered why business professionals would want to take time out of their day to talk to a student.  It turns out, most people are more than happy to talk about themselves with anyone who’s ready to listen.  Doing research ahead of time to learn about the person you’re meeting is helpful – or starting with people you already know you have something in common with.  First-year MBA candidate Scott Cohen said he wasn’t nervous at all to start: “Going into [my first informational] I was pretty excited, because the guy was from Uganda and I had spent two years there.  Then I realized, [informationals] work… it’s not that hard!”

At the moment, most first-year students are doing informationals in pursuit of a summer internship.  The process doesn’t stop with an internship offer however, as second-year Kristina Ursin recently advised the first-year operations class in a presentation on her Nike internship.  “On the first day of my internship, my boss gave me a list of seven people and said, ‘Go talk to these people.’  I felt nervous, but I started with a few Willamette alumni, and they were all really friendly.  They would say, ‘I know what you’d be good at – you need to go talk to these people…’”  Kristina ended up doing 50 informationals last summer, which led to another internship for this spring.

While it often takes a bit of effort and persistence to arrange many as many informationals as Kristina did in one summer, it’s amazing how many people want to talk to MBA students and will make the time for you.  First-year Jeremy Sage has managed 30 informationals already.  He explains, “Informationals often naturally occur when I meet someone who does something for a living that I am interested in.”  The reality is that while it feels like people are doing you a huge favor by taking the time to sit down to chat, it’s not a one-way street.  Of course it is very generous of them, but it also helps build their network, and they know that as a student at a highly-rated MBA program, you might be one of their top employees one day.  I encourage anyone who’s interested in moving up in their field or starting a new career path altogether, to start doing informationals.  If you do it right, you’ll be the one getting informational requests from MBA students soon!

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