You’ve decided to re-invent yourself, and look for a new job. You call me and say, I’m ready, let’s do this. When I mention the necessity of “informational interviewing” though, your nose scrunches up as if you just smelled a dirty diaper. You say, “No way, I can’t do those, I’m an introvert,” or “Pah! They don’t work,” or “I don’t know how to do them.” I so understand this fear. At the heart of every job search is a desire to give birth to a new self, and as we all know, birth is a messy, awkward process.
Perhaps your reluctance to do informational interviews stems from this: If you’ve held a job for awhile, you’re no longer a rookie. You’re the Subject Matter Expert in your office, the top dog. You have the respect of your colleagues, and people come to you to solve problems. Then I step in, and ask you to let go of that, and go out and speak to people, using your beginner’s mind. That’s hard for the ego to take. Soon you abandon your job search because you can’t bear the discomfort of starting from scratch, of initiating conversations with strangers. I feel foolish doing these, you say. So you give up, and shrink back into your familiar, yet unsatisfying job that doesn’t fit you.
What if there is a friendlier way to look at informational interviewing? What if, instead of feeling bad about being a rookie again, you saw the process as a necessary path to wisdom? What if you saw these information-gathering interviews as a catalyst for your ever-evolving professional self?
Because that’s exactly what I’m asking you to do.
Embrace and befriend informational interviews, and let yourself be a learner again. As Shunryu Suzuki says, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” You will not only shorten your job search, but gain insights into your profession and vital connections to your community that will serve you throughout your career. Consider the following facts and assertions:
1) At least 70% of jobs are filled by a KNOWN candidate. This means someone at the company knew the candidate before the job was available. This also means, if you are part of an applicant pool, you stand a significantly lower chance of landing the job. In the “known candidate” scenario, the employee referred a friend, or met her at a networking event, or she came in for an informational interview. The odds are definitely in your favor to meet employees and hiring managers before a job becomes available.
2) You gain insights into trends and industry needs you wouldn’t have by simply reading status updates, or scanning job boards. After a week of conducting interviews with career advisors at several local colleges and universities, I learned about their needs and pain points. In particular, I learned how much college students want to know how to use LinkedIn to their advantage. This was a perfect opportunity for me to become an SME on LinkedIn: I love this medium , and as a former software trainer, learning LinkedIn was a snap. I now optimize LinkedIn profiles for clients, and give presentations on LinkedIn.
3) You build relationships with colleagues in your field. Whether I am eventually hired at a company or not, my goal with each informational interview is to make a professional friend. Twenty to thirty minutes is plenty of time to create a powerful, exciting connection if you are sincere and prepared.
Here are questions I ask, though they change, depending on context:
- How is your day going so far?
- How did you get this job?
- What attracted you to this profession or this company?
- What do you love about this profession the most?
- What trends do you see that concern you?
- What are challenges or pain points you’re currently facing?
- Whom do you admire in the field? Who has influenced your work?
- What have you learned in the last few years at your job that you didn’t expect?
- What do you still want to learn?
- Who do you know that I might speak with? May I use your name as a referral?
- What can I do for you?
4) Because you are already, TODAY, a valuable resource. It’s important to go into every informational interview with the knowledge that you have a lot to offer. As a skillful informational interviewer, you know to always ask “What can I do for you?”
Here are things you can offer if they can’t think of something they need:
- Since you already noted and wrote down what aspect of their profession they’re particularly interested in, you can look for articles to send them about this.
- Ask them what their hobbies are, and look for articles you can send them
- Ask them if they’re looking to meet someone in their profession, or needing a connection. If you don’t know someone now, keep an eye out for future.
- Ask them if they need help with something you’re good at. For me, I offer help with people’s LinkedIn profile, if they’d like that. Usually they say yes, which might turn into a recommendation. Show them both your value and kindness.
5) Because if you keep doing them, you won’t keep feeling foolish. In the late-80s, I enrolled in a Spanish immersion program in Guanajuato, Mexico for a month. I forced myself to speak Spanish every day, all day, even though I stumbled, misspoke and felt I sounded foolish. I called my boyfriend-at-the-time in tears who said, “What if you’re just a beginner, and not a fool?” My Spanish steadily improved, and by the end of the month, I could converse.
Informational interviews are just like learning a new language. With each interview you will find better footing, learn more about your industry, and profession. You will also relax, become more yourself and before long, will look like someone a company wants to hire.
Every informational interview I’ve had has pulled me forward. One gave me the courage to launch my own business. A few more taught me where I can provide real value in my profession. Others have eventually led to a job offer. John C. Maxwell said, “If we are growing, we will always be out of our comfort zone.” Our professional growth then depends on giving ourselves permission to feel uncomfortable–to be willing to be learners. You will be astonished at where it takes you.