The GREAT JOB SOONER Blog

90 Days, 32 Informational Interviews, 1 Great Job

This is the true story of how Dan, a self-described introvert, harnessed the power of networking by doing three informational interviews a week, landed a six-figure job he loves – and even enjoyed many of the conversations!

How did he do it? I interviewed Dan to find out.

What was he looking for?

In 2016 Dan (not his real name) was unemployed, except for some sporadic consulting work. But given his strong track record as a manager and individual contributor in various nonprofit organizations, he didn’t feel desperate. Dan was looking for “the right job, not just any job.”

His requirements included the following:

  • A salary of $100K or more.
  • No relocation or long commute.
  • A motivating mission at a large nonprofit, educational institution, government organization or ethical startup.
  • A talented team.
  • The opportunity to be “an educator, not just an administrator.”

Why informational interviews?

Although he did some online job search, Dan decided that informational interviews would help him pinpoint the right opportunity. “I wanted to see what was out there and which organizations were the best to work for.”

How did he get 32 people to make time for him?

He let go of the idea that any particular meeting had to lead to a job. Instead, he decided to approach the conversations “in a spirit of curiosity, or as if I were a reporter.”

“That made it very low-pressure for the people I was talking to, as well as for me,” he said, adding with a laugh, “People like talking about themselves. Who knew?”

“It was really important to get introductions. Yes, I did some cold reach-outs, but mostly it was a matter of reconnecting with people I’d known in the past and hadn’t talked to in a while, especially people who were really smart or well-connected.”

Linkedin was a useful tool in this process. “I would look to see who was working where, or in what field. I joined a couple of relevant groups and then I looked up people in my network who were connected to any of these groups.” This made it easier to reach out to these people, who were now fellow group members.

What kind of questions did Dan ask?

He asked his interviewees about their background, how they got started in their career and job, and what they liked and didn’t like about it.

Going beyond the standard informational interview questions, he also asked them about specific organizations he was interested in. Had they heard news about the organizations and what was going on with them – growth, change, etc.? How did people get hired there? Did this person recommend working there, or warn against it? Often a contact would introduce him to someone connected to an organization that interested him.

Was this whole process easy or hard? Fun or not?

I asked Dan whether he’s an extroverted person who loves reaching out and meeting lots of people. The answer was – no!

“I am absolutely an introvert,” he said. “I had to force myself. I set a numeric goal: at least three info interviews a week.”

The first couple of interviews were the hardest, so he started with easy ones first: former work friends and a mentor. Once he had a few of these meetings under his belt it got easier.

“There were fun moments. I had a lot of great conversations. It was interesting to hear about people’s career journeys. People really opened up.”

“And it got me out of the house and kept my spirits up.”

How did all these info interviews lead to his current job?

Ultimately a contact introduced him to an executive at an outstanding organization he had admired for quite some time.

“I had to ping [the executive] three times before she got back to me. Finally I had a great 15-minute phone conversation with her as she was unloading groceries, and then a few weeks later she sent me a listing for a consulting job. That ended up being my source of income for six months, and finally turned into the job I have now.”

Dan now works in an organization he has long wanted to join, doing work he loves, with the strong educational focus that’s important to him.

How did he feel about starting as a consultant?

The words “consultant” or “contract” raise a shudder of discouragement from many job seekers. I asked Dan how he felt about taking this role.

“Well, I didn’t want to be a contractor; it was a little uncomfortable and strange. But oddly enough, now as I look back on it I sometimes think ‘Hey, it was nice to work from home in my pajamas.”

Is Dan’s story unusual?

It may seem like 32 informational interviews are a lot, but that’s only about three a week for three months. Other job seekers have filled their schedules with one or two meetings daily, with the result of becoming employed within a few weeks.

Conclusion

Informational interviews are a form of networking, which is the fastest way to get a job. Not to mention the fact that the word-of-mouth opportunities you discover are often better jobs those that are advertised!

The Holy Grail of Informational Interviews: Meeting with a Hiring Manager

How can you get a job interview ahead of all the competition? By doing an informational interview with manager before there’s an opening.

In my May 18 post, The Informational Interview – It’s Not a Thing! I wrote that there are three different types of informational interviews – the Career Exploration Informational, the Company Insider Conversation and the Hiring Manager Meeting. The third type is the most likely to result in a job.

If you’re thinking of pursuing such meetings, you probably have a few questions.

Won’t I get a job faster if I focus on applying to current openings?

In most cases,  no. If you have lots of well-placed contacts and can get referred into interviews, great. Otherwise, you need to develop those contacts, and it’s hard to do that at the last minute. Informational interviews allow you to build those contacts and relationships ahead of time. And as for applying to jobs without a connection, only about 20-25% of jobs are filled that way.

Why would they want to meet with me when there’s no open position?

Many hiring managers find it valuable to meet with prospective job candidates even when they don’t have an open position. Informational interviews allow them to develop a “bench” of qualified people in advance.

That way, a future opening can be filled more quickly and easily – perhaps by hiring you.

By “hiring manager,” do you mean that they’re currently hiring?

No, because if they’re currently hiring for your position you probably won’t be able to get an informational interview with them! Instead you’ll have to compete with many other candidates for a phone screening with Human Resources, then, hopefully, a job interview with the manager. Instead, talk to managers who don’t yet have an opening. Because then when they do, you’ll be way ahead of the crowd.

How do I get this kind of informational interview?

Mainly, through networking and through informationals of the type I call the Company Insider Conversation. Even if such a conversation doesn’t lead to a Hiring Manager Meeting, it may lead to a referral once there is an opening. Job seekers who keep busy having these kinds of conversations tend to get hired faster than those who spend most of their time applying to openings online.

How is the agenda different in the Hiring Manager Meeting?

In the other types of informational interviews you need to downplay the fact that you’re looking for a job in order to put your contact at ease. With the manager you should be up front about your interest in working for her. This meeting is very much like a job interview: you’ll be selling yourself as a potential candidate.

How do I do that?

Pretty much the same way you’d do that in a job interview. For example:

  • Know your key selling points and proactively bring them up. A good salesperson always knows and emphasizes the top features of their product that are most likely to excite their customer. This is so important that I devoted the first chapter of my interview preparation guide to a step-by-step process of identifying your “REV Points.” As of this writing I’m giving away that first chapter as a free gift for subscribing to this blog.
  • Make a good impression and connect well with the interviewer. Be on time, appropriately dressed (as for a job interview). Smile. Make conversation. Take a sincere interest in the manager and her department.
  • Be consultative. Ask about the department’s and company’s goals and challenges. Look for ways to be a resource.
  • Be prepared with solid answers to common interview questions like “Would you tell me about yourself?”, “Why are you interested in this company?” and “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”
  • Be ready to tell concise, clear stories that demonstrate your abilities and how you’ve made a difference for past employers.

Then what?

Follow up to ensure the manager will remember you.

  • Send a well written thank-you message within 24 hours reiterating your interest and why you’d be a good fit for future openings.
  • Keep in touch via friendly updates on a regular basis to let her know you’re still interested. Otherwise, her promise to “keep you in mind” may quickly fade from their memory. Use a system to schedule follow-ups – Outlook tasks, a contact management system like Jibberjobber or even an old-fashioned tickler file.
  • Connect on LinkedIn and other  social media as appropriate, and make a point of regularly looking through your updates and news feed for opportunities to interact.

This post concludes my series about informational interviews as an important job search tool. I hope I’ve convinced you to at least experiment with them, because they can greatly shorten the path to your next opportunity!

How to Turn Info Interviews into Relationships

How to Keep in Touch after an Info Interview?Informational interviews are a great job search networking tactic. You can gain useful industry and company insights.

More crucially, you can build relationships that may lead to being referred to hiring managers.

How can you keep in touch and continue the relationship (without being perceived as a pest)?

Spoiler alert: I’m not going to suggest you send them articles!

Let’s say you had an informational interview with Samantha, who does work similar to yours at a company you’re interested in. She has offered you some advice.

Samantha is more likely to feel like her time was well spent – and more likely to want to offer additional advice or leads in the future – if you report back to her on how the advice was useful. That way she feels like she really made a difference.

Before you even leave the meeting, thank her and say “I’ll let you know how this works out.” About a week later, send her an email or card mentioning how you followed up on her advice and what the results have been. Having made a commitment to follow up, you will be perceived as following through on a commitment.  No peskiness involved!

And where do you go from there?

Steve Dalton, the author of one of my favorite job search books, The 2-Hour Job Search, answered this question in a discussion in his Q&A forum on LinkedIn:

After you’ve updated your contact a couple of weeks with the status of any referral they gave you (or if they did not give you one), you switch the contact to a recurring monthly check-in. The first monthly check-in should consist of three items:
1) Recap that best piece of advice or insight they gave you
2) Give a specific example of how you benefited from that advice
3) Ask if they have additional advice

If they don’t have further advice, you make future monthly check-ins more personal, inquiring about vacations & kids, etc., but always thanking them for their advice & asking for more. This reminds them you’re still searching, and prompts them for action.

If you’re still having a hard time asking for something, read Dalton’s Huffington Post article about a phenomenon well known to social psychologists, called the Ben Franklin Effect – whereby politely asking someone for a small favor – and following up appropriately afterwards – can actually cause them to offer more help in future than if you had done a favor for them!

Make the most of your informational interviews by turning them into ongoing relationships. This will be far more fruitful – in your job search and even after – than a one-time coffee date that is quickly forgotten.

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!

Informational Interviews for Fun & Profit!

OK, so it's a silly title, but I wanted to grab your attention. Info interviews are a wayOK, so it's a silly title, but I wanted to grab your attention. Info interviews are a way-underused tool for job search and career advancement!

Please excuse the wacky title, but I had to get your attention. Info interviews are a seriously underrated, underused tool for anyone who’s looking for a job.

An informational is not a job interview. While it may be true that one out of 12 informational interviews results in a job offer, focusing on that possibility can make both parties feel tense and inhibit the free flow of conversation.

Instead, the informational is a unique opportunity to build relationship, gain inside information and make your skills known in a low-pressure atmosphere.

(That said, if you’re fortunate enough to be interviewing with someone who could become your next boss – or one of her management peers – then your conversation will be similar to a job interview. Explore the employer’s needs and show how your own experience and skills are a solution. Just don’t expect an offer anytime soon. Be patient, keep in touch, and carry on with your search.)

Anyone who is at all knowledgeable about your target industry, occupation or companies could be a good person to interview. If they don’t have the information you’re looking for, they may refer you to someone else.

Here’s what you’re likely to gain from an informational interview:

Valuable information that can guide your job search.

Here’s an example from my own life: Before discovering my vocation as a career coach, back in the 1990s I wanted to become a corporate trainer. I had no experience in that area.

I obtained an info interview with someone who knew a bit about the field. She tipped me off that there was currently a boom in welfare-to-work training; I could get started there, drawing on my nonprofit background, and then make a move into the corporate world. And that’s exactly what happened. (It was a good experience, but I prefer my current work as a career coach!)

Inside information about your target companies.

Knowledge is power. Information about the culture, priorities and hiring processes of companies you’re interested is essential in a proactive job search – and will make you come across as a savvy candidate.

Professional relationships.

An informational can be the start of an ongoing connection leading to tips, introductions, mentoring and/or friendship.

Employers much prefer hiring someone who has some connection to them or their firm, especially someone referred by an employee. Make yourself known in the employer’s grapevine!

“But why would they make time for me?”

You’d be surprised how often people will say “yes” to your request for an informational. The benefits to them may include:

  • Industry information that may be helpful in their own career development.
  • Expansion of the “candidate pool” for future hires, if they are a manager.
  • Appreciation. It’s flattering being seen as an expert!
  • A chance to “give back” and make a difference for someone.

Have you ever been approached for an info interview? I have, and I’ve usually said yes.

In an upcoming post, I’ll provide tips on how to maximize the power of the informational interview to fuel your job search and career. Stay tuned!