Informational Interviews: 10 Tips for Success

Informational Interviews: 10 Tips for SuccessInformational interviewing can be an amazingly effective tool to help you find a job. Of course, you need to do it right!

In a previous post I discussed why it’s a great thing to do: because it can lead to opportunities and offers! In this post I’ll tell you how to conduct these meetings in a way that gets results.

First, a  few pointers on getting the interview in the first place:

  • Ask people you know for potential contacts in the field or company you’re interested in.
  • Mention a common interest or acquaintance in the subject line of the email, or first thing in the phone conversation, to get their attention.
  • Ask for a specific, short amount of time like 15 or 20 minutes. (If all goes well, maybe you can spend more time with them on some other occasion.)
  • Set up an in-person meeting if possible, such as a coffee date near their location. (You should pay for the coffee!) A phone meeting is your second choice.

Tips to make the most of the meeting:

You have probably heard some of these tips before, but not all of them – and every one of them is important.

  1. Build trust and rapport first and foremost. Be on time. Aim to make the meeting comfortable. Take a genuine interest in the other person. Follow their cues: Do they seem to want to get straight down to business, or are they chatty and casual? Rapport is more important than covering a lot of ground. If the relationship gets off to a great start, information can come later!
  2. Have a (short) list of questions. Mention right up front how many questions you have; this will help you manage the time. One of the most important questions is “What other resources should I look into?” Above all, you’re hoping for introductions – to hiring managers ultimately, other insiders at your target companies (see #3 below), or anyone who might have information that gets you closer to these. Use good judgment before asking for this favor. Warm up with questions about the person you’re talking to – his job, company, career and interests – and your target companies.
  3. Offer a copy of your resume, or better yet, a networking bio or marketing plan / target companies list.
  4. Take a few notes, but don’t bury yourself in your notepad. (Immediately after the meeting, take a few minutes to complete your notes at a coffee shop or on the train.)
  5. Mind the time, and excuse yourself at the time agreed upon. Don’t leave it up to them to tell you that they need to get back to the rest of their busy day.
  6. Promise to update them within a certain amount of time (e.g., a week) on your experiences in following up on any advice or leads they’ve given you. Obligate yourself to follow up. That way, when you get back in touch you’re not being a pest, you’re just keeping a promise!
  7. Mail a thank-you card as soon immediately after the meeting. You might be surprised how much this is appreciated. An attractive card may be propped on the person’s desk for days, reminding them about your job search.
  8. Update them later as promised. Provide a brief progress report on the actions you took or people you contacted. This demonstrates follow-through, helps your contact feel the satisfaction of making a difference, and can lead to valuable new tips and information.
  9. Keep in touch with a quick update every few weeks until you find your new job. Otherwise, their promise that “I’ll keep my eyes open for you” is meaningless because they’ll forget about you. And how will they know you’re still looking if you don’t tell them? Use a system to schedule follow-ups – Outlook tasks, Jibberjobber, your CRM, or a tickler file. Invite the person to connect on LinkedIn and possibly other social media if they seem open to it.
  10. When you land your new job, thank this person again for helping you in your search! And then stay in touch. For example, you might thank them again when you get to your one-year job anniversary!

Job Search in Summer – Keep It Going!

Job Search in SummerMemorial Day is past, and many job seekers are easing off the job search accelerator and slowing down, thinking summer isn’t the right time of year to look for a new job.

Actually, there are several very good reasons to put your search on cruise control instead of downshifting.

While there may be fewer openings, there are also fewer people competing for them. So it’s easier to stand out.

Plant seeds in May and June to harvest a job in fall – or sooner! Yes, the pace of life in many offices accelerates in fall, and many recruiters work hard during the summer filling the candidate pipeline so they can have new people in place before they’re needed. Hiring processes take time – longer than they used to, in many cases.

Your job search efforts also take time: planning your strategy, polishing your communications, researching prospective employers and getting on their radar screen ahead of time through networking and informational interviews.

You wouldn’t plant tomatoes a few weeks before you want to pick them. The same goes for getting a new job. Seed your visibility in the right places. Feed your job search with the business intelligence you gather from informational interviews and networking. Prepare and cultivate now so you can harvest interviews and offers later – or sooner!

Activities to work on now:

Prepare good, concise, upbeat answers to key questions like “What do you do?” “What happened to your job?” and “What are you looking for now?”

Be ready to capitalize on summer networking opportunities like barbecues and parties. Avoid asking people if they know of any openings. The answer to that question is usually short and sad: “No, sorry, I don’t.”

Instead, mention what you do, what you’re looking for, and a few companies you’ve got your eye on. This gives them the opportunity to mention that they have a friend who works there, or used to, or is a vendor or competitor.

If you’re lucky, the conversation may go like this:

Guy at Party: “So, what do you do?”

You: “I’m in marketing. Right now I’m looking for a director-level position in a large Bay Area food or beverage company like Clif Bar, Peet’s, Ghirardelli or Jamba Juice – something like that.”

Him: “Oh, my friend Cheryl used to work in the Ghirardelli corporate office, although now she’s at See’s in South San Francisco. I could introduce you to her. They’re not hiring, though.”

You: “Well that’s perfect, actually, I’d love to talk with her about her experiences in both of those companies. If you’d like to introduce me, that would be great! Thanks so much!”

Take advantage of the more relaxed pace to line up coffee dates and informational interviews.

Get some exercise. It’s easy to get discouraged if you’re between jobs or unhappy in your current job. Exercise helps keep your mood upbeat and your energy level high.

Plan some time off, but otherwise commit to a steady schedule. Even if you’re employed and can only spend a couple hours on the weekend, make commitments to yourself and keep them. Buddy up with a friend, or join a job search club like one of the California EDD’s Experience Unlimited groups. Find sources of structure and accountability.

If your resume and LinkedIn profile aren’t the best they can be, now is the time to get them in shape. If you need help, realize that good resume writers / career coaches are often unavailable on short notice, especially during their busy season, August through October. Shop around now so you can choose a pro on the basis of quality and rapport, not short-notice availability or quick turnaround.

The same goes for interview preparation. An interview is like an exam where an “A” is worth thousands of dollars. Don’t just cram at the last minute. Read books and/or get coaching well ahead of time, so a “pop quiz” (a phone screening) won’t catch you unprepared.

Don’t buy into myths and excuses. The truth is, a great new job offer can come at any time of year.

How to Get Past the Gatekeeper to the Hiring Manager

How to Get Past the Gatekeeper to the Hiring ManagerMost job seekers send their resume to Human Resources. That’s a good way not to get a job.

Human Resources is the gatekeeper. Their job is to take in large numbers of resumes, and screen most of them out.

The person you really want to reach is the hiring manager – the person who will be your boss once you’re hired.

Let’s say you want to apply to a posted position at XYZ Media. Go ahead and apply to HR as directed, but also send your resume and cover letter to the hiring manager – and maybe even make a follow-up phone call, unless the ad specifically forbids it.

The tricky part is that the posting doesn’t list this person’s name. How can you find him or her? Here are some clever strategies.

(I’d like to thank the authors of Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters 3.0 the CareeRealism blog for excellent ideas that I’ve combined with my own to make this list.)

  1. See if they list their executives on their website. Many companies do. You may want to call (see below) to verify that the information is up to date.
  2. Simply call the company and ask the receptionist, in a polite but matter-of-fact tone, “Can you please tell me the name of the person in charge of ________?” (Fill in the blank with the department you would be working in.) A more stealthy tactic employed by some job seekers is to “accidentally” call the wrong department, apologize, ask for the correct number and go from there.
  3. In LinkedIn, do an advanced search. Type in the hiring manager’s likely title, the name of the company, and any other information you know.
  4. See if you have any LinkedIn connections who might know the manager’s name.
  5. Do an advanced Google search. (You get there by clicking the little “gear” icon on any page of search results.) Let’s say you want to find the VP of Sales. Fill in the blanks as follows. All these words: “XYZ Media” sales – This exact word or phrase:  “vice president” – None of these words:  free. (By eliminating the word “free” you eliminate junk sites such as resume distribution services.)
  6. Search online business directories such as Standard & Poor’s (“S&P”) or Manta. Such directories are usually somewhat out of date, so try to verify the information elsewhere.
  7. Set up a Google Alert for the job you want and see what you can find on the Internet using a keyword string such as: Marketing Manager position available XYZ Inc. The job may be circulating on social media. If you find it, see if you can connect with the person who posted it. They may be able to tell you who the hiring manager is.
  8. In LinkedIn, try to get new connections (as opposed to the existing connections mentioned in item #4 above) at your target company who have positions related to the one you’re interested in. They may be able to tell you who the manager is. Warning: When inviting strangers to connect with you, you run the risk of someone clicking “I don’t know this person,” which could get you restricted from LinkedIn. To be safe, only invite people to whom you can get an introduction, or those with whom you share a LinkedIn Group that you can refer to in your invitation message. (Join one of their Groups if necessary.) Many or most recipients may ignore your invitation, but all it takes is one person deciding to be helpful.

In the end, if you have a name but you’re not sure it’s the right person, go ahead and send your letter and resume to that person. If you’re wrong, there’s a good chance your resume will be forwarded to the right person.

What if you find the name but nobody wants to give you their email address? And what can you do to ensure the hiring manager actually reads the resume rather than just forwarding it to Human Resources? Read the followup post for tips!

Finally, a word about overall job search strategy:

The ideas above can help you with the reactive aspect of your job search (responding to posted openings). For most job seekers it’s more important to do proactive search, by identifying target companies and networking around and within them before a job even opens up. If you do that, you may already know the hiring manager when an opening occurs – and in fact, she or he might call you!

More Easy Ways to Build Your Target Companies List

More Easy Ways to Build Your Target Companies ListIn last week’s post I shared two easy ways to build your target companies list – a powerful tool for a proactive job search – by using LinkedIn.

In this post I’ll share two more methods from The 2-Hour Job Search by Steve Dalton. These methods use (1) and (2) news sources related to your occupation or industry.

With your target companies list you can go after opportunity in a proactive, strategic way that gets better and faster results than applying to online job postings.

Time Management Alert: Avoid getting overwhelmed or wasting time. Commit to spending only 10 minutes on each method. You may be surprised what you can accomplish in a few minutes if you stay on task. (You may want to set a timer!)

Do a quick Indeed search to find employers of interest.

Using Indeed’s advanced search feature, type a few keywords into the box labeled “With all of these words.” Include the location where you want to work.

Example: MBA marketing “san francisco”

Now, instead of getting sidetracked into reading and applying to the postings (along with the hundreds of other job seekers who are applying to them today), just skim the list for companies that are not yet on your companies list and find 5-10 companies of interest that aren’t already on your list. Add them. Stop, and move on to the next method.

Time Management Alert: If you see an opening you want to apply to, do it later. First, stay on task with the more proactive, strategic approach we’re talking about here. (If you’re not sure why applying to these online jobs shouldn’t be your top priority right now, read my article “How People Get Jobs.”)

Next method: Look for companies while reading news and trends about your field.

What websites or trade publications do you read for news about your profession and/or industry? Spend 10 minutes looking through this material with an eye open for companies that are doing interesting things. Add those companies to your list.

This method may yield fewer companies than the other methods, but the companies may be especially interesting, trend-setting ones – so don’t skip this step!

Have you got at least 40-50 companies yet? If not, no worries, simply repeat one of the steps in this article or the previous one – whichever method worked best for you – until you reach that target.

A word about information management:

What you’re developing here is a personalized database of your target job market and contacts within it. You’re going to need to organize all this to use it effectively. So do use some kind of contact management software. There is actually a product that is designed specifically for job seekers, called JibberJobber. It’s all web-based, so there’s nothing to purchase or download, and you can use it for free unless you want the premier features. I’m quite familiar with it and I recommend it to my clients.

What’s next?

Dalton’s book goes on to describe his techniques for filtering and using your companies list, and I may share that in a future post. Prioritize your list and use it to network your way towards your new job. If you haven’t already read my post “Networking With a Marketing Plan” this would be a good time to check it out.

Ultimately, what you’re accomplishing with these methods is to become known to insiders in companies where your next job is waiting to open up. That way you’re positioned to get that wonderful phone call saying “We thought you might be interested in an opportunity…”

How to Build Your Target Companies List Using LinkedIn

How to Build Your Target Companies List Using LinkedInA proven way to get a great job sooner is to proactively market yourself to a handpicked list of suitable employers, as I’ve described in my earlier post Networking with a Marketing Plan.

Great opportunities will be hiding and germinating in that list, waiting to be discovered.

You’ll need a long enough list of companies to ensure there will be good jobs opening up in the near future, but not so long a list that it’s impossible to work with. For many job seekers, a list of 50 may be about right.

How can you compile that list? Here’s are two easy methods described by Steve Dalton, Senior Career Consultant at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business and author of The 2-Hour Job Search.

Both of these methods involve LinkedIn. If you aren’t already on LinkedIn, read my post LinkedIn: Who Needs It?

First, do a quick search for companies similar to your dream employer.

  1. Type the company name into the main search field that appears at the top of every LinkedIn page and click the search button.
  2. In the list that appears, click the “similar” link under the company’s listing. You now see a list of companies that may be likely employers for you. Voila!

Add these companies to your target list. Over time, through internet research and networking conversations, you’ll prioritize the companies and probably delete some. Don’t worry about that yet. First things first: you’re brainstorming and gathering possibilities.

Side benefit: This “similar companies” research is also a great way to prepare an answer to the common interview question, “Who are our competitors?”

Did you go to college (even if you didn’t graduate)? Great, use the Alumni Method as well.

  1. Go into LinkedIn, change the dropdown to “people” at the main search field and click the “advanced” link to the right.
  2. Under “relationship,” add “third and everyone else” in addition to the options already checked.
  3. In the “title” field, type in a job title you’d like.
  4. In “education” add your college.
  5. Click “search.” This shows you career paths people like you have followed and what companies they’ve worked for – companies you can add to your list.

Side benefit: You’ve  just discovered some good people to network with, since you have things in common with them – including an alma mater – and they have connections at companies of interest. Invite them to connect on LinkedIn, for a start.

See also, “More Easy Ways to Build Your Target Companies List.”

Now, use your list!

Start following, researching, prioritizing and networking your way into the companies on your list. You’ll be gathering valuable business intelligence and becoming known to people who can help you land your next job.

This approach can lead to a phone call like this:

“Hey, we talked a while back about that company you want to work for, XYZ Inc. Well, my friend there says there’s a position opening up. It isn’t posted yet, but I mentioned you and they’re interested in talking to you.”

A Job Journal is Career Gold!

A job journal is career gold!Your greatest assets in job search and career advancement are your accomplishments from your  jobs success stories that you can add to your resume and talk about in interviews. I get excited about discovering these treasures as I talk with my clients. They’re solid gold!

But many of us have trouble remembering our work accomplishments from last week, let alone last year, or a five years ago.

So can we take just a moment to think ahead to your next career move? If you’re working (or when you get your new job!), it’s crucial that you keep a journal of your successes.

You can call it a job journal, a success log or a rainy day file. Just do it!

This post was prompted by a coincidence: yesterday I posted an article about keeping a “rainy day file,” and then today I read that there’s a new cloud-based tool for keeping this kind of journal. It’s part of JibberJobber, the contact management system for job search and career management, and the tool is described in today’s post on the JibberJobber Blog.

You can use JibberJobber for free. I use it myself to track my contacts, even though I’m not looking for a job. (I’m happily self-employed as a career coach!) I read their blog to keep up on what the system can do, and also I enjoy the articles about tips, trends and new developments in job search.

I don’t get any reward for mentioning JibberJobber. I just think it’s crucial to organize your career management / job search information, and I don’t know of any other system that’s designed specifically for that.

Whether you use a database, a Word document or a paper file, start a job journal now, or in the first week of your new job! Don’t ever again be in the position of struggling to dig this information out, years after the fact.

Store up your gold!

Job-hunt in December! Here’s Why.

Job-hunt in December! Here's Why.Contrary to popular belief, December is a really smart time to work on finding a new job, for several reasons.

First and foremost, there’s less competition. Recruiter survey data cited by show that although hiring may be at lower levels in most industries, “recruiters are determined to fill the year’s remaining openings by December 31, and the supply of applicants dwindles as Christmas and the new year approach.”

Meanwhile, there are unique networking opportunities as holiday socializing provides natural occasions to reconnect and meet people.

While the holidays may be an extra-busy time for some, for others there are lulls. A coffee date or informational interview may be more do-able than usual. Even if your invitation or request is turned down, you’ve reminded someone of your existence right before January and February, two of the busiest hiring months of the year.

To jump in January, get ready in December. Prepare to respond quickly to opportunities by improving your resume and online presence (especially LinkedIn), preparing a list of SOAR stories and polishing your interview skills.

This is also a great time to make a list of companies you’d like to work for, prepare a personal marketing plan and launch a proactive campaign to gather inside information and contacts before positions open up.

Finally, if you’re planning to seek assistance from a resume writer / career coach, decide who you want to work with and schedule time with that person. Calling a career coach in January is like calling a tax person in April; they may be too busy to help you on short notice.

Whatever you do for your career in December, give yourself a big pat on the back for being wise, diligent – and ready to land a new job. It may be the best Christmas present you can give yourself!

Afraid to Make a Career Change?

Afraid to make a career change?Are you hanging onto a job you don’t like, because you’re afraid of looking for a better one?

Why is it that the fear of change so often trumps the desire for fulfillment?

Human beings have a built-in tendency to be anxious and risk-averse – what  neuropsychologist and author Rick Hanson calls the “negativity bias.”

“The nervous system has been evolving for 600 million years, from ancient jellyfish to modern humans,” wrote Hanson.

Our ancestors had to make a critical decision many times a day: approach a reward or avoid a hazard — pursue a carrot or duck a stick.

Those “sticks” were potentially fatal: dangerous wild animals, physical attacks from competitors, starvation. The “carrots” were rewards like food, socializing and sex. (Still popular after all these years!)

So a risk-averse caveman might fail to take a risk at killing a mammoth one day, but live to hunt again the next day. While a too-daring caveman might just die young.

You can see how evolution favored risk-averse people.

do we really need to be that fearful now? In terms of looking for a new job, we may be terrified of rejection, failure, stress, disruption – but these problems are survivable.

Fear is very unpleasant, and there are ways to decrease it, for example by working to change the beliefs that are making us fearful. But some fear will probably persist, so we also need to learn to live with it.

The key is, we can choose not to let it rule us. We can start doing whatever it is we would do if we weren’t afraid.

Feel the fear but take action anyway.

Make a plan, take steps toward your goal (even “baby steps”!), and find sources of support – a buddy, a good self-help book, a career coach. Do it even if you don’t feel confident.

Your mind is going to worry and fear, in a misguided effort to protect you. There’s no need to get angry about that. In fact, appreciate your mind for wanting to protect you.

Fear doesn’t have to stop you. Start doing what you really want to do.

A Job Seeker’s Silver Bullet: Referrals!

A Job Seeker's Silver Bullet: Referrals!Most candidates are not aware of the huge degree to which employee referral programs (ERP) can boost their chances of getting hired, according to a recent survey of employers.

Candidates with a referral are 10 times more likely to get the job, according to an article entitled, “Employee Referrals: the Candidate’s Silver Bullet?” in the September issue of the CareerXroads blog for recruiters.

“The bottom line is that few job seekers apply for a job with a referral, and yet most of them could likely find one using today’s social media tools with only a little effort.”

Employee referrals are the primary source of up to one-third of hires, yet only about half of the employees surveyed were even aware that their company had an employee referral program (ERP).

Here’s how you can capitalize on ERPs:

  1. Network with employees at companies where you’d like to work, using LinkedIn and other social media in addition to traditional methods.
  2. Find out whether those companies have ERPs. (Their employees may not know, but their HR departments certainly will.) If they do, there is very likely a bonus involved for the employee, so make use of this win-win situation.
  3. Find out whether your own company has such a program, and participate by referring  qualified candidates. Networking is about giving as well as getting.

Use that silver bullet!

Job Boards: Don’t Get Eaten by Monster!

Don't get eaten by Monster (or any other job board)!Only 1.3% of hires happen through, although many job seekers spend a lot more than 1.3% of their job search time there.

I came across this interesting fact on the JibberJobber Blog. (JibberJobber is a contact management software designed for job seekers). The article is a few months old, but I doubt the facts have changed a bit.

I’m not picking on Monster in particular. I’m making a point about job boards and their role in job search.

Many sources estimate that only a fraction of jobs are obtained by people who aren’t in any way known to the employer – maybe 20% of hires. That’s the category you’re in when you apply to a job online without any networking or referral involved.

I’ve said a lot in this blog about networking, and a bit about making use of referral programs. My post about using the power of habit is relevant as well, since a successful job search relies on smart habits.

My advice is, change your habits if you’re spending more than 20% of your job search time applying for jobs online.

Also, be efficient in your online searches by using aggregator sites like Indeed and SimplyHired to search thousands of job boards at once. Save a search – or a few searches with different keywords, to see which work best – and have the results emailed to you regularly. To search company career pages in addition to job boards, add LinkUp. Statistically, more jobs are found through companies’ own websites than through job boards.

Plan a multi-pronged job search strategy with a strong emphasis on talking to people. If that thought makes you shudder, coaching can help to build good networking skills and habits that make it a lot easier. Search smart – and get a great job, sooner!