Looking for a job is no longer as simple as reading a newspaper and mailing a resume. In our lean economy, jobs can be scarce. Submitting online resumes and seeing no fruit from your labor is more than disheartening. Take heart! There is a better way.
When I was job-hunting, I conducted informational interviews with as many firms as I could. In my case, my informational interview turned into a job interview, which turned into an internship, which turned into a permanent position. You can do the same thing, you just have to shift your focus from spamming employers to smart networking. This article will walk you through the process: from prospecting to closing, and beyond.
The first step to landing an informational interview is to work your network. Everybody knows somebody who knows somebody. Make a LinkedIn profile and contact people there. Ask your family and friends to connect you with people in your field of interest. Next, make a list of all the people you can contact and prioritize them based on how likely you think these people will meet you. Bill Gates may not have time to meet with you, but your uncle’s friend who works at Microsoft probably does.
When you have your list, start sending introductory emails. KISS principle applies here (Keep It Short and Straightforward). A brief email introducing yourself, your ambitions, and desire to speak with someone who can give you advice is all you need. Treat it like a short cover letter. Attach your resume and be sure to personalize the email to the person. The worst thing you can do is send an impersonal, mass email. If you don’t yet know this person, mention your mutual connection in your first sentence.
Treat This Like a Job Interview:
Because it sort of is. Research the company so you can show some industry knowledge. You don’t have to know everything, because you’re there to learn, but you should be able to have a basic conversation about your field of interest. As always, groom yourself and dress well. Be early and chat with the receptionist. Bring your padfolio so you can take good notes.
Bring an Agenda:
This is key. If you bring the agenda, you control the meeting. You don’t need a detailed agenda, just simple direction for the conversation. Trust me, you will get the most out of your interview if you have a plan. After some small talk, share with your interviewee that you brought an agenda and briefly walk him or her through it. They will be impressed by your preparedness and appreciate that you value their time and do not want to waste it.
Ask Good Questions:
Start with general questions, then get more specific. In his book, The 2-Hour Job Search (I recommend you read it, so buy it here), Steve Dalton recommends the TIARA framework for structuring informational interviews:
Trends (ex. What has been the biggest change recently in your industry?)
Insights (ex. What are the most important things you’ve learned at your job?)
Advice (ex. What should I be doing right now to prepare for a career in your field?)
Resources (ex. What resources should I review next?)
Assignments (ex. What kind of projects are most common in your role?)
All that said, some people will just start your meeting and talk. If this is the case, let them. They probably have something insightful that you should hear. Take good notes and ask your most burning questions along the way.
Go for the Close:
You should end every business job interview by asking for the job. This is no different for an informational interview, you just have to change your phrasing. At the end of your interview you could say something like, “I really appreciate your time today and you have given me a lot to think about. If, after further thought, I believe I would be a good fit at your company, would I be able to reach out to you again?” That opens up the door for future conversations by letting them know you are interested in working at their company. If you say this, make sure you follow up to address the request.
Don’t forget to send a thank you email to follow up with your contact. Send an email every six to twelve months, just to stay in touch. When a position opens up, you’ll be at the top of their list.
Pay it Forward:
When you’re a big shot (because of your informational interviews), remember to take time to meet with young people. A good rule of thumb is to meet with ten young people for every one person that met with you.