What if I told you I had a secret tool to getting back to work: one that is effective, informative and highly underused—so people who use it are almost guaranteed of being remembered by the right employers! What if I said I have used this tool myself, and gotten a good job as a result? What if I said it may hold the key to the elusive secret job market where all the good jobs are? Would you be interested?
You probably would be. But once I mention this secret miracle tool people get turned off right away. That’s probably what makes this tool so effective—people use it so rarely.
I speak of a networking tool that I have successfully used in the recent past to get myself back to work, the informational interview. Skillfully used, the informational interview is one of the most valuable sources of occupational information, and it presents opportunities for networking as well as career or company exploration.
Richard Bolles, in his book What Color Is Your Parachute? lists the most effective job search methods in getting a job include finding the organizations that have the jobs for which you are most suited. (ed. 2012, p. 255.) Sometimes this requires some imagination and thinking outside the box. Looking just at local public schools for teacher positions, for example, only scratches the surface. Many other entities, schools and otherwise, could use talented people to teach things to their clients. There are tools available online to find employers; Career InfoNet is a database of nearly 12 million employers. You can search for an employer by industry, occupation, location or keyword.
Finding the Right Employers
You want to find the right employer, one who is looking for someone just like you, right? To do that you not only have to find employers who employ people in your occupation, but you want to find the right fit too. Chances are the employer is doing the same thing.
In order to find suitable employers to target, some research is required. Of course, LinkedIn is an excellent place to find information, and to find people in your network that work for that employer. Websites such as GlassDoor.com give an inside look at companies, including company reviews, salary comparisons and inside connections. Content in this website is employee-generated; in this case, remember that employees are more likely to go out of their way to post negative reviews, and otherwise excellent companies might have skewed ratings as a result.
Meeting the People
So you’ve found employers that hire people in your occupation, done some research and got at least enough information to target a few choice candidates. You want to get no more than a handful to start so you don’t overwhelm yourself. Using LinkedIn or GlassDoor, you may have even found some people in your network who already work for those employers. The next step is widening your network to include the decision-makers and other people in power in those companies. You want the right people to know you.
Talk to those people in your network. Let them know you this company might be a good fit for you and you would like to know more. Ask them who you might want to talk to. Ask for introductions, if possible.
What Do I Say?
Now that you’ve found the right people at the potentially right companies, you’ll want to prepare the interview. Now is your chance to ask the employer what they might later be asking you.
I like how Richard Bolles describes it as analogous to going to a clothing store and trying on different clothing that you see in the window. You may fall in love with an outfit in the window, but when trying it on you might discover the clothes don’t fit right, they are a bad color, etc. Trying on a new job or a new employer might be just as beneficial—both to you and to the employer.
Informational interviews should be used both on supervisors/managers and on other employees. When contacting those people, my experience has shown it helps to give a small blurb of no more than 30 seconds about yourself and why you’re contacting them.
“Hi John Smith, my name is Jane Doe and I am interested in finding out more about your company…”
Make sure they understand you are not asking for a job, even if that is what you want. It puts them more at their ease. They usually do, however, like to be asked for advice. Let them know you don’t want much of their time:
“I was wondering if you’d be able to meet with me for no more than 30 minutes, maybe over a smoothie at Starbucks (my contacts loved that!), just to discuss a little about your field of expertise…”
Once you have some appointments lined up, what you ask depends on the reason for meeting with that person in the first place. Informational interviews can be used for several different purposes:
- to explore careers and clarify your career goal
- to expand your professional network
- to build confidence for your job interviews
- to access the most up-to-date career information
- to identify your professional strengths and weaknesses
- to learn more about targeted companies
- to obtain critical feedback on your resume/job-search goals
Lists of questions you can use would be too exhaustive to list here, but an excellent informational interviewing tutorial can be found at http://www.quintcareers.com/informational_interviewing.html. Here are some links giving some ideas of questions to ask:
Some Additional Things to Remember:
- Be prepared to take notes. Chances are you’ll be nervous enough that you’re not going to remember everything you learn. It also shows the person you’re connecting with that you are serious in what you are doing. Be enthusiastic and show interest.
- Don’t take longer than you promised. It’s simply a matter of courtesy and credibility.
- Take a resume with you. The person you are speaking to is going to remember you for the preparation you put into this meeting. Even if this person is not a hiring manager, he may hear of a position opening up soon that might be ideal for you. The resume is going to answer the questions the hiring manager may have, and will certainly provide them with your contact information. I find it’s best to give them your resume at the end of your interview. Doing so at the first looks too much like a regular job interview, and may put them on their guard.
- Ask if they know of someone else you may want to talk to. Again, this is at the end of the interview. Be prepared to write down the information they give. Also ask permission to use your contact’s name when contacting these new contacts.
- Ask for their business card and for permission to maintain a connection. This is an ideal networking opportunity. Send an invite on LinkedIn afterward if they have a profile. Keep a list of all the people you interviewed and a few notes to remind you of who you interviewed where. Keep an idea of those places you feel are an ideal match for you, and follow up on those. What information do you still need to find out? How else can you connect? How do they recruit?
- Send them a thank-you card after. The reasons should be obvious.
- 5 Tips for Non-Awkward Informational Interviews (thedailymuse.com)
- Ten Networking Tips (minnesotaworks.net)
- For Career Changers, It Pays to Talk to Strangers (aarp.org)
- Not Getting Any Interviews? Conduct Your Own! (thehradventure.wordpress.com)