Informational Interviews

6 Job Search Strategies that Provide Lifetime Career Insurance

Extra-terrestrials looking down on Earth might study our job search process and be baffled. They would notice a disconnect: Jobs are required for survival, yet we lack a humane, transparent structure for actually obtaining a job.

“Huh!” they’d say. “It’s as if swimming is required for survival on their planet, yet they don’t teach them to swim. How bizarre!”

The traditional job search process is inhumane, shrouded in mystery, and rigged in favor of the employer: Apply to a job board along with hundreds of others, and wait. You follow up, with little or no response. It’s frustrating and mysterious with no human contact. All aspects of it feel beyond the job seeker’s control, demeaning, and rarely yield a job.

There’s another way.

Is it easy? No. Will you get frustrated? Sometimes. Is it faster than using job boards? YES.

Here are the payoffs:

  • You control most aspects of it while maintaining your dignity
  • You create and grow lasting relationships (for your next job search. And there WILL be a next job search).
  • You evolve professionally because you’re having live conversations with people at companies that interest you, learning what you like and don’t like.
  • It’s career insurance, because it’s a sustainable process. It hinges on relationship building, on the fundamental principle that people want to hire people they know . . . not people who applied to job boards. (See Hannah Morgan’s excellent article here).

Here are some examples of how to apply sustainable job search strategies:

Demonstrate how you stand out from your peers

As marketing guru Seth Godin says, “To be successful you must be remarkable – a purple cow in a field of monochromatic Holsteins.” If standing out is hard for you to do, please enlist help from a career professional. “Purple cows” get found, and establish their credibility faster. Your LinkedIn profile and your resume should skillfully convey your uniqueness and how you will solve an employer’s problems. Whether you like the idea of personal branding or not, it is necessary these days.

Nurture old and new professional relationships

This morning I heard from my LinkedIn client Eric Dudley,* whose profile I completed early December 2015.

Here was our conversation:

Eric: Hey Julie! Just wanted you to know I landed a job this week

Julie: What great news! Congratulations! I’m curious, how did you land the job?

Eric: I sent out a letter to old friends and co-workers last fall, announcing I was available.  One of them needed an operations guy. It’s a great fit.

Eric understands a fundamental job search basic: Maintaining close professional ties with colleagues while you’re employed translates to job insurance when you’re not.

Take a “Ready, Aim, Fire” approach

Don’t let anxiousness propel your job search. Instead, first define what you really want to do next, by clarifying your best strengths and accomplishments. It will save you time.

“Keeping your options open” will slow your search. I know a job seeker who sent an email to his entire network saying, “If you know of a job I might like, please let me know.” Make it easy for your network to help you by being specific.  Provide a job title you’re aiming for, an industry, and companies you’re targeting. Read this fantastic article by Lisa Rangel on how to build your list of targeted companies.

Structure your job search

Be sure you go to bed each night with a plan about what you will accomplish tomorrow. Waking up with an empty calendar is depressing and overwhelming. I spoke to a job seeker recently who refuses to set goals so he won’t be disappointed in himself if he doesn’t accomplish them. “I don’t want to put that kind of pressure on myself.” Not surprisingly, he hasn’t had an interview in weeks.

Next to a job offer, your primary objective is landing an interview. During my own job search, I set the goal of landing 3-5 interviews a week. Was that hard? Yes! However I learned that the more new people I met, the higher likelihood of an interview. My days revolved around increasing the number of “productive conversations” (what some refer to as informational interviews).

Solicit and engage in productive conversations

Invaluable, these will make all the difference in your job search. Here’s a success story: I worked with a client last fall who wanted to land a job fast. She knew she had one superpower: Transforming chaos into order. She had lots ofaccomplishment stories to show for it too.

She targeted 5 specific companies she wanted to work at, and introduced herself to people who worked there, either over the phone or met them for coffee, asking for advice and gaining insights about what it was like to work there. Within 5 weeks she had a job offer.

What is a “productive conversation?” An introductory conversation based on like-mindedness, which you initiate with someone who works at a company you’re targeting, who can give you career advice.  It’s an information exchange.

Productive conversations increase the value of the relationship both ways. You are valuable to them because many companies offer referral incentives today. To learn more about the art of productive conversations, read these excellent suggestions by career expert Lilly Zhang.

Join a job search community

I’ve written about that here. According to career expert Orville Pierson, you will shorten your search by 20% by joining a community. You’ll receive feedback from other job seekers, as well as referrals, and an ongoing support system of people in the trenches along with you. You will lift each other up, and learn clever tricks even your job coach may not have thought of.

To recap: Make your brand clear. Build relationships. Talk to people. Connect with fellow job seekers. By doing so, you learn to swim, not sink, in the job market – cultivating a skill that will last you a lifetime.

*Eric cheerfully gave permission for me to use his name.

Image:Depositphotos@kwest

Julie Bondy Roberts, MA, GCDF is a certified LinkedIn™ Profile Writer and LinkedIn trainer. She is the founder of Coming Alive Career Coaching, and loves teaching people how to get found on LinkedIn.  A participant in one of her workshops recently wrote: “Julie’s LinkedIn class took me from a skeptical LinkedIn novice to a believer in the power of LinkedIn!”

To learn more about LinkedIn™ Profile Makeover packages & training your group or organization on growing your business through LinkedIn, contact Julie at juliebondyroberts@gmail.com. You can also follow Julie onTwitter and Facebook.

7 Right Things Every College Student Needs to Do During College

In response to a Time article by Martha C. White titled “The Real Reason New College Grads Can’t Get Hired,“ a reader named “younotus” laments: “I had to move back in with my parents [and] . . .  if it weren’t for them, I would have nowhere to go. And I’ve done everything right. I’ve done everything I’ve been told to do, to have a good life. And still, I can’t help but feel like I’m losing again and again and getting nowhere.”Colorful fruits for dessert

It’s a heart-rending statement, part of a much longer one where he reveals his frustrating and underpaid path since graduating from a prestigious college with a liberal arts degree. I bolded his line above “And I’ve done everything right,”

a) because I see that phrase a lot in reader response threads expressing discontent about job prospects and

b) I wonder how he defines “everything right.”

I worry there is a disconnect between what some students believe is “doing everything right,” and actual activities that help make a college graduate ready to make the leap into the corporate world. All of us who are educators in the career development arena want to close this gap.

I discussed this recently with a college career counselor, who expressed the same concern. She said, “I’m anxious about our students who have so much on their plate.” She and “younotus”  beg the question, what are the right things for students to have on their plate during college to pave the way for a respectable starting job? Here are my thoughts on this. Please feel free to weigh in:

1. LinkedIn: 

  • Through their college progression, students need to grow their network on LinkedIn. In fact by graduation, they should have at least 250 connections and aim for 500+ connections early in their career.
  • They need to complete and optimize their LinkedIn profile.
  • They need to learn how to leverage LinkedIn to their advantage, using its features to raise their profile, visibility and appeal. Matt Hames writes that by their senior year, students should rebalance the Facebook/LinkedIn ratio: By senior year they should be on LinkedIn 90% of the time, Facebook 10%. In addition, students need to be taught proper “Netiquette,” which means being strategic, personable and generous when making connections through LinkedIn.  If so, they will be well-served (and poised to serve others).

2. Complete an internship or 3. While completing an internship is obvious to many, I meet many students who admit they “never got around to it.” It belongs on the plate! What other things might they need to say no to, in order to get around to it? With whom can they make a connection at a company, so that they are referred rather than part of a huge gang of applicants?

3.  By graduation, have “at the ready” at least 3-5 accomplishments showing ways students have made an impact, showing quantifiable results. By graduation, resumes need to contain this information. LinkedIn profiles also need to showcase what students do well, and how they enjoy making an impact. Is their branding front and center on their LinkedIn profile?

4. Complete 25 informational interviews before graduation. Informational interviews are the perfect activity for gaining insight on multiple levels: About oneself as a job seeker, about a company, about career preferences, insights into industry trends,  a source for blog ideas, and most important, for discerning pain points that a job seeker may be able to leverage into a job or internship.

5. Volunteer in places that allowing job seekers to gain marketable skills they want to learn. At least by junior year, students can take on more leadership positions in volunteer organizations by taking on officer positions, and offering their talents. For example, if someone has writing or marketing skills, they can offer to create and manage a Facebook page for a non-profit, or a small business owner. Students can seek out opportunities to be of value and make a difference.

6. Learn how to target specific companies they’re interested in. Once they’ve targeted companies, they can then do research, and begin to connect to insiders within those companies, and set up informational interviews.

Many of the readers responding in the TIME thread above discussed how their “spray and pray” job hunt approach yielded nothing. From the lack of response to their resumes, they inferred the job market was dried up, or their major was a waste, rather than infer the approach itself was misguided. By helping arm students with the knowledge of how to target and research companies, they learn an invaluable skill they’ll use throughout their careers.

7. Begin and develop a side-gig that has the potential for monetization, something they enjoy doing in their spare time.  Kimberly Palmer’s The Economy of You: Discover Your Inner Entrepreneur and Recession-Proof Your Life, makes the case for learning to monetize  hobbies as a way to offset lower paying jobs, perhaps even replacing them. It is responsible stewardship to prepare students to be entrepreneurs. I envision a day, in fact, where an entrepreneurial class is mandatory for every student, every major, with the expectation that they leave college with a proven, independent means to earn money well underway.

Is the disappointment felt by “younotus”  inevitable, even with the “right” things on his plate? Maybe he has a blind spot that prevents him from taking actions that can propel him forward. I can only conjecture. My intention, with the solutions above, is to provide students with a solid foundation for their own career management. No job is permanent. When it’s time to leave a job, the best thing we can do is equip students with the skills and expertise they need to land a better one.

image: © Depositphotos.com /gnohz

 

 

5 Reasons to Befriend the Practice of Informational Interviewing

Two Businesswomen Shaking Hands In Modern Office

© Depositphotos.com /Monkeybusiness

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.