When I was just starting out in the world of work, I received great advice from a trusted mentor. “As you explore your options, one thing you can do is talk to people you admire regarding what they do and how they do it.”
By now, you may have heard the widespread statistic that approximately 80% of job opportunities are filled through networking efforts and the rest are filled through other passive means.
One great networking tool is the informational interview, a conversation where you ask questions of a person in a position or a lifestyle that interests you. This conversation can increase your knowledge of a profession, position, company, or mode of operation. It also gives you the chance to make a great impression.
But, doesn’t this sound too simple?
It is easy to make the job search seem like a dragon that we have to slay, as we slink from cave to cave on a mighty quest to save our personal world from total destruction. It must be treacherous! We must be alone! We must not let ourselves be seen for fear that we will do something wrong and be destroyed! And we have two tools, a rusty sword and a shield.
To borrow a lesson from the 2010 movie, “How To Train Your Dragon”, what makes your dragon (the elusive job search) monstrous may not be what you think, and as we see in this animated story, we can work with the dragons. We just need to approach them with better tools, such as our networking skills, rather than a sword (blindly slinging resumes to job postings).
Below is some insight on using the informational interview as a tool for your job search strategy - for those of you graduating from college or those of you graduating to a new chapter in any phase of your life where you are looking for something new.
Who can I approach for an informational interview?
Think of people with whom you’ve made some initial connection. This contact might come through a referral, such as an alumnus or a friend of a friend. Perhaps you met someone of interest at a networking event – or at an ice cream parlor! Don’t forget that even people you already know may have a wealth of knowledge you have not explored, and you can be proactive in your quest.
How do I ask for a conversation?
Use your best judgment and refer to your common link. This may be in an email or a phone call. For example, “Hello Mr. Smith, I am grateful to Jenny for introducing us, and I am intrigued by your successes in the consulting industry. In my efforts to explore opportunities, may I have twenty to thirty minutes of your time to ask you about your career story and insights? I respect the demands on your time and I look forward to the opportunity to connect with you. I would be glad to speak over the phone, or I would enjoy meeting for coffee at a location convenient to you.”
What if they say “no”?
It’s okay! The fear of rejection is understandable, though a request for an informational interview is a low-risk/high reward situation. Reaching out to someone for insight is a compliment.
How many informational interviews should I pursue?
Gaining information for any pursuit is always helpful. Manage your time and your priorities – and your bank account if you are taking people out to coffee more often than chatting over the phone.
When should I pursue an informational interview?
You don’t have to be in the middle of a major job search to benefit from informational interviews. Asking to speak with someone you admire should be a constant consideration in your ongoing mode of operation.
What should I say in the interview?
Prepare questions and employ the skill of active listening. Here are some general recommendations:
- How did you get to where you are professionally today?
- What is a “day in the life” like for you?
- How would you suggest that I pursue this field/position/company?
- What related books or professional associations do you recommend?
- How would you describe the culture in this company?
- Is there anyone else with whom you recommend I connect?
- May I stay in touch with you and update you occasionally on my progress in this area?
- Let them know specifically what you are trying to accomplish so they may be prompted to make helpful suggestions or referrals.
Informational Interview Etiquette Tips
- BE ON TIME!
- YOU pay for coffee/lunch since you requested the meeting.
- Be professional in your words and behavior.
- Be accountable to the agreed upon time frame.
- Follow up on anything they offer that you accepted within 24 hours.
- Keep them updated, though do not send frequent emails or calls.
- Do not send your resume to your contact if it was not requested.
- Give and take – Offer to be a resource to them if that is appropriate and possible.
The interview is over – now what?
Follow up, especially with a note of thanks. Sending an email is usually acceptable. If you are not already connected to this contact on social media, use those channels to stay on their radar. Be sure to keep them in mind when you have updates on your job search progress that you believe may be relevant to your conversation. This helps them know of the unique ways they may be in a position to assist you.
Remember that networking is a relationship-driven process that is not expected to produce tangible results with every effort. You are investing in professional relationships and constructing a powerful foundation for your own professional identity. These efforts help you stand out from a pile of resumes.
So, get out there and use this effective networking strategy to build momentum in your job search!
Christy Robb is a career development and lifestyle coach and writer who aims to empower people with tools, resources, and a mindset that supports them in realizing their ability to recalculate old assumptions about work and life in order to achieve mental and emotional freedom – and take action on their true desires. Having operated on “both sides of the table” as a coach and a recruiter, her work brings a unique perspective to her clients and readers on strategies for success in today’s world of work. Read her blog, Meaningful Meandering, find her on Twitter (@Christy_Robb) and Facebook (Christy Robb Career & Lifestyle).