There are aspects of job search that can be fun even though few of us are happy when we need to find a job. My favorite part of job search was that it gave me the opportunity to speak with leaders in the industry or profession that I may not have had access to when I was representing a specific organization. For example, I could speak with competitors or senior leaders at vendors or customers. As someone that enjoys learning and soaking up new information, speaking with new people and asking them questions was my favorite part of job seeking.
Informational interviewing is one way for job seekers to gather first-hand knowledge about potential employers while establishing rapport with contacts at those organizations that may be able to help with a search. Steve Dalton, in “The 2-hour Job Search” suggests thinking of yourself as an “information seeker” while the person you want to interview is an “information keeper.” This approach will help you concentrate on gathering data instead of putting the person you are speaking with on the spot by asking for a job.
There are several key steps to preparing for and conducting informational interviews. They include:
- Researching the company,
- Learning about your contact,
- Asking questions,
- Being prepared to answer questions, and
- Following-up with your contact.
Most of us know by now that the best way to get a job is through networking. As discussed in a previous blog post, this is the process of identifying and contacting people that may know of opportunities for you. Start with people you know, and then ask about people they know. You may also want to connect with other people who can help you find your next job — not necessarily the people doing the hiring, but the people who know those people.
An excellent way you can make use of your network is to generate informational interviews. Informational interviews are part of job market research, so you can tell your contacts you are doing research to overcome the objection that “we do not do informational interviews.”
Start by researching companies and industries.
The best way to begin an informational interview campaign is to do your research. Research will help you decide what companies to seek interviews at, and what questions to ask once you select the companies and find employees that are willing to speak with you. Your research will also help you avoid wasting your contact’s time, or your own time asking questions you could have answered using Google.
Remember that college and municipal libraries usually have subscriptions to expensive business research services, and that their web sites could permit you to access these resources online without leaving home. So check before you subscribe to a service yourself.
Do a Google search, at a minimum, since you can glean a lot of information from the search engine without a local library card number or access to a university library. No one hires lazy employees.
Learn about the person you will meet with.
The next step is to learn as much as you can about the people who are willing to speak with you. LinkedIn is a great starting point, and a Google search will sometimes reveal even more information. Remember, though, that, according to Steve Dalton, some of the information you find about people has “unintentionally” become publicly available because the person did not realize that information about themselves they shared on social media is visible to everyone.
So, be careful how you use the information you find about someone you are speaking to. Suppose, for example, Dalton suggests, that the person you are planning a conversation with is a marathon runner. It’s a good idea, according to Dalton, that you mention to your interviewee that you are a runner and see whether they want to converse about the subject. No one wants to feel that they have been “Google-stalked.”
Be sure to ask questions that allow the person you’re interviewing to talk about themselves. For example:
- How did they get started in the field?
- What is their educational background?
- What do they wish they knew when they got started that they know now?
- What is the toughest part of their job?
- What challenges/problems do they have that need solving?
Modify these questions as needed if much of the basic information is available on your contact’s LinkedIn profile or elsewhere.
Be prepared to answer questions.
The person you are meeting with will ask you questions, too. This is a good thing because people ask more questions as they become more comfortable speaking with you. Steve Dalton says you should be prepared to answer the “big three:”
- Tell me about yourself,
- Why would you want to work for us,
- Why are you interested, or working in, this industry or profession?
You should have responses for these questions prepared whether you are doing an informational interviewing campaign or if you are interviewing for specific jobs.
Get business cards from your contacts if you have a traditional in-person meeting, and then write a personalized thank you note or email. Follow-up with your resume and cover letter only when appropriate, or if you’re asked to provide them.
Can you get informational interviews in today’s business environment?
We know that in-person meetings create stronger rapport and connection than virtual or telephone meetings but we should adjust to the current business environment.
First, recognize that landing informational interviews will be a challenge. My clients have sometimes been told “we do not do those”, or “we do not have time for that.” Others have been shunted to HR because company policies do not allow employees to deal with anything employment related.
There are also organizations that give employees incentives for finding good worker. Staff at these companies may want to speak with you.
My recommendation is that you avoid using terms such as “informational interviewing” or even “networking” when you speak with people. Instead, say you are researching the industry or profession. This will work especially well if you are a college student, graduate student, or hold office in a professional or trade organization. At least one person I have spoken to has even parlayed their job market research into a business providing market information to others in her trade!
Accept Zoom and other forms of remote meetings when it is difficult to get an in-person meeting. You will be able to do more meetings at less cost each day so this may offset the lower level of connection at each meeting.
Communications is a two-way street, so a solid LinkedIn profile and resume will demonstrate to those you wish to speak with that you are serious about their business. This is where we can help. Schedule a no-cost consultation with us today.
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