Multiple informational interviews can bring great insights into possible careers, says Arie Meir.
After earning his degree in biophysics at Berkeley, Arie Meir took an engineering internship at Google. But he didn’t want to stay on that path. Here, he explains how informational interviewing led him to an intriguing position and helped him ace interviews.
Click here to read how Meir gained skills and career exposure in graduate school.
Tell me about your job.
I work for the philanthropic arm of Google; I help evaluate grant proposals from a technology standpoint. Our work is at the nexus of technology and impact. I work with social entrepreneurs and academic faculty to understand the state of the research in a field, like 3D printing for affordable prosthetics. I review funding opportunities and think ‘How is this game-changing and scalable?’ and ‘What are the risks?’ and ‘How would the world be different in five years if we fund this?’
How did you get there?
I had a rough idea of my career goal. I wanted to be around technology and entrepreneurs. I used that as a lighthouse, a kind of beacon. I stayed flexible as to a concrete role and I waited to see if it was a good fit. Every opportunity that came along, I could evaluate how it would bring me closer to my longer term goal.
How did you find opportunities?
I did something like 100 informational interviews. The more opportunities I could consider, the more likely I could find something that would engage me and be a good fit to my skills. I thought less about the title and more about the attributes, the values: what do I care about, why would I want this job?
You set up that many interviews?
When you schedule five of these informational interviews a week, even if two of them go badly, that’s okay. There is naturally a lot of rejection; at first you write these emails and people don’t respond. At first you have to do a lot of cold calls; then you ask if there is someone else you can talk to. People often open up their networks. Later, I was getting responses from very busy people. I learned to be respectful of people’s time but still ask for their input. If you do your homework so you know what you’re asking, people will give you a lot of information.
One of your contacts alerted you to an engineering internship at Google. What happened next?
I used the internship to get experience but also to get to know Google. It would have been natural to stay an engineer, but that wouldn’t have applied to all my skills and interests. I reached out to a dozen or so product managers at Google and asked them “what do you spend your time on? what’s important?” When I interviewed for product management roles, I knew what I’d be asked and I could speak the language.
Preparing for interviews for the role I have now was more difficult. There were only three people who do this at Google. I engaged my sister; she’s a marketing genius. And she helped me to create a narrative for this role about technology and impact.
I have acquired a set of experiences that form my toolkit; during interviews I can communicate them in a certain way to align with the role I want to fill.
Sounds like communication skills are very important.
Especially in interdisciplinary roles and management, you need to be able to gauge the right level of detail. The way that I talk to my colleagues on the technical crew is different from how I speak to my boss on a managerial level or how I would speak to a grantee.
Anything else you’d like to add?
The business language provides a unifying layer for multidisciplinary teams. It allowed me to be more versatile as opposed to someone who does only science. I took some classes at the business school at Berkeley, and was also in the consulting club, but one thing I would do if I did it again is to get more exposure to business education.
Interview by Monya Baker