Conducting an Informational Conversation 

If you’re thinking about becoming an actuary, you might have some questions going through your mind, such as:

  • What type of actuary do I really want to be?
  • What skills are employers looking for?
  • Who can I talk to about this?
  • How do I know if the actuarial position I might want is the right choice?

This is where it’s important to start your quest for information, and start an informational conversation with people who are actually in the field.

Destination of this Journey 

Our destinations today are: 

  • Identifying key elements and the best practices involved with conducting informational conversations.
  • Knowing how to take advantage of the long-term benefits that can come from the conversations you have.
  • Learning how to structure and facilitate conversations; in other words: how you’re going to lay out the overall flow of the conversation. 

The Hidden Advantage 

There are three major hidden advantages to starting informational conversations:

  • Relationship building:
    • Informational conversations are crucial for relationship-building skills
  • Informational conversations:
    • Can give you the “inside scooop” on a particular company or industry such as the culture of the company, the role an actuary might play within that company, and what the needed skill/attributes of success in that company might be.
  • Building your personal brand strength.
    • Getting all of this information helps you build your personal brand because it lets you know which direction you could possibly take as an actuary with specific skills.

What is An Informational Conversation? 

An informational conversation is a one-on-one opportunity for you to talk to someone already in the industry, potentially in the type of position you’re interested in, whether it’s consulting, insurance, or any other role.

With an informational conversation, you get to learn from another’s first-hand experience and get insight into what they’ve done. 

Just to clarify, this is not specifically tied to job interviews. It’s more of a way for you to gather information so you can make the best choices for you and your brand, as well as your career.

Because this conversation is an actual conversation, it allows you to be more relaxed and have more confidence throughout the information-gathering process. 

Again, informational conversations are all about relationship-building, and not so much about the other person putting in a good word for you with the HR office or passing along your resume. 

Best Practices for Conducting Informational Conversations 

First off, be respectful of their time. A twenty to thirty-minute session is a pretty standard length of time to cover many of your questions. Also, work on their schedule.

If, say, you’re not normally an early bird, are you willing to get up before your normal time if that’s the time they have available?

Think about what questions you want answered beforehand, and send questions before the conversation day arrives so they know how to answer the questions you have. Plus it shows you’re taking this conversation seriously.

Be ready to add value as well. Think of ways in which you can make the time spent work for them. And get noticed by demonstrating what you’re about.

Not just talking, but physically showing, through your actions what you’re about. This is a great way to show your ability to be consistent.

Facilitating the Conversation 

When you’re greeing them, thank them for their time, and let them know how you found out about them and find out more about them and their background.

The introduction process is also a good time to confirm just how much time you really have to spend with them. This reinforces your respect for their time.

Now, it’s conversation time, so go ahead and get started on your questions. Remember, though, that this is really not a formal Q&A session, but a conversation.

Conversations, as a rule, tend not to be linear.

Just because you have questions put out there doesn’t mean things are going to happen in the order that you’ve laid out. Go with the flow, but of course, you can redirect as needed. You may not get all your questions answered, but you’ll make it work.

Keep tabs on the time, and wrap up the conversation about five minutes before it’s time to go, and segue out of the conversation with something like “Well, we’re about five minutes away from our finish time.

I have just one last question.” Or if you don’t have any more questions, open the door for the other person to ask any questions they might have for you before you leave.

Once you’ve finished the conversation and have headed back home, or back to the office, follow up the conversation with an email or some other correspondence as promptly as possible. This is key to having those long-term relationship benefits.

Avenues to Conduct the Conversation 

There are four main avenues to conducting an informational conversation: 

  1. In person: this is truly the most ideal way to do it. Even if you have a business-lunch arrangement, asking questions in person lends a face to the person that’s agreed to talk with you and answer questions.
  2. Virtually: If you can’t get together in person for some reason, suggest a virtual path, such as Google or Skype. You’re still able to see their faces via a webcam.
  3. Over the phone: this is the most standard way conversations such as this take place. The person who’s answering your questions will simply carve time out of their day to talk with you.
  4. Email/Surveys: This is a good avenue to take if you can’t talk in person or you simply want to get as many opinions as possible before making a decision. 

But regardless of which path you take, be prepared to be flexible based on the other person’s time and comfort. If you want to chat via Skype, but they’re skittish about that kind of thing and would rather chat on the regular phone, respect that. 

You Have Reached Your Destination 

Let’s recap the four points of conducting an informational conversation: 

  • Identifying key elements and best practices as they relate to the conversation
  • Taking advantage of the long-term benefits: see the impact of these conversations throughout the interview process.
  • Learning to structure and facilitate a conversation: know the general flow that needs to take place, or the flow you could use, as there are truly no cookie cutter conversations.
  • Create a personalized list of questions: what questions and answers do you want to create or know in order to complete your informational conversation, and get the most out of the time you’ve spent with the person you’ve contacted. 

Not only will learning to conduct informational conversations help you build your brand, they will keep on building your confidence and communication skills as well.

Want more help with your journey?

  1. Actuarial Community: Feeling alone on your journey? Become a part of the Actuarial Journey Community!
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Let us know in the comments below – Which one of these principles do you think would be the best for you to focus on for the next month?