Looking for a job today is like trying to find the right life partner. Only after engaging in several courtships with different suitors can you make an educated decision and choose the right person. In the employment world, this courtship is called the job search process. As a seasoned recruiter, I have noticed a critical component of the job search process that is often underrated and overlooked: the informational interview.
An informational interview in dating terms is the “blind date.” It’s an interview initiated by the job seeker to gain information on a specific position, company culture, or even industry. For all our candidates, we recommend this interview as part of their career plan. Today, waiting for a job posting to appear online is no longer a viable job search strategy. Just as in dating life, you need to be proactive and think outside the box while seeking new opportunities.
Despite common belief, in the employment world, most people are willing to help others. People generally enjoy talking about themselves and mentoring others hoping to gain access into their field. For the job seeker, there are several ways to pursue an informational interview. Here are some resources to check out: social networking, online job boards, placement services and professional recruiters, trade/professional associations, and contacts within your professional network – such as professors, mentors and colleagues.
Meet Mary, a job seeker I recently worked with. Here’s how she landed her information interview:
1. She strategized her career plan. Before engaging in conversation with your contact, outline your short-term and long-term career goals with realistic timelines.
2. She did some research. Find out about the company and position you are applying for as well as the professional you are meeting with.
3. She prepared an agenda. Once you secure an interview, it’s important to come prepared with an agenda to ensure a focused meeting that will allow you to gain all the information you need to take the next step in your career plan. You should have specific questions ready and topics you plan to cover.
4. She reached out to her contact. Start by introducing yourself, and be sure to mention the purpose for your call. Here is a sample of her introduction:
“Hi, my name is Mary, and I have reviewed your profile and I have done research on your background and company. I am very interested in learning more about your business and how you got started in your field since I too hope to land a new position in your industry. Do you have 20 minutes for a cup of coffee?”
5. She brushed up on interview etiquette. Because the job seeker is the person initiating the interview, he or she must be mindful of informational interview etiquette, such as punctuality, appropriate dress, having several resume copies and business cards available, expressing genuine interest in the trajectory of their career, offering to pay the bill, and writing a personalized thank you note to follow up.
Mary secured a 20-minute meeting with a venture capital firm. Here’s how she did it.
“I talked to him quickly about my career history, and he responded that he felt I would make a good fit for his industry. I tried to assess where his company was in need. I had a few questions in my head that I thought would bring about a good discussion. He told me that they get about 300 to 400 business plans a year and they don’t even get to look at half of them. I suggested that it might be a good starting point for me, and talked about part-time or contract work just to get my feet wet. He said they weren’t hiring, but he gave me contact information for three promising professionals. He also told me about a networking group that the Venture Capital Association holds on a monthly basis. I am more confident and more convinced that my career plan is working!”
Although Mary didn’t land a position from the informational interview, she fostered her relationship with a professional in her field, learned information on how to get started in her preferred industry, and gained access to new valuable contacts. The moral of the story is, don’t rule out any method for gaining headway in your job search.
Every effort makes a difference.