Informational interviews are one of the most powerful methods of finding employment around. But they are used so infrequently. A few thoughts about how to ask for them and how to utilize them.
Many unemployed people feel (and are) desperate for work. Unfortunately, being desperate gets in the way of a successful job search. An employer can feel the desperation from the candidate. Once felt, the employer responds with one of two concerns. They think:
- “Is this person desperate or are they always over the top? Better not to hire them and avoid the situation entirely.” Or
- “Wow, this person seems desperate. Are they telling me the truth, or are they telling me what they think will get the job? The candidate told me that a 40 mile one way commute is fine, but is it really? Better not to hire them and avoid the situation entirely.”
So if you are desperate (and even if you’re not), how can you proceed in a job search and avoid the problem? The answer is informational interviews. Informational interviews allow you to ask to speak to a hiring manager without the pressure of a job. The job seeker is just expanding their network and getting to know people. If asked why you want to meet, you respond that yes you are looking for a job, but have some savings or at least some time. You want to make the right decision about employment and find something you can really commit to. This sets the tone that you are smart, choosy and want to make a commitment to an employer.
First, you need to do some research. Figure out what employers and what jobs you want to focus on. Learn who the major employers for that position are in the area. Learn about their pain points. See if there is any press articles about their industry. Find names of hiring managers.
Second, contact hiring managers through Linkedin or other service. Email or call them directly if you can get the information. Ask for 15 minutes. No more. Say that you are looking at the industry and would like to get their advice. Maybe 1 or 2 in every 10 will say yes. The other 8-9 people aren’t bad, just busy. Be polite to them. They may say yes next month. Be aware of the time that you call. Call a restaurateur at 6pm and you should expect them to be rude to you. The best time to call, btw, is before 9am. Secretaries may not be in yet and the hiring manager is more likely to pick up their own phone. Don’t do informational interviews with HR.
Third, ask six questions.
- Would you be willing to look at my resume and give me some advice on it?
- Given my background, what advice might you have about finding jobs in this industry?
- Do you anticipate yourself or others doing any hiring in the next 6 months or a year?
- If I was looking for a position here what other skills do you think I would need?
- What traits do the best _______ possess?
- Who else do you think I should speak to?
The last question is perhaps the most important because you will now call that referral and ask for an informational interview. When you call the referral, tell them who referred you.
Think this is a waste of time? You would be wrong. For several reasons: First, and I am being cynical for a moment, but… everybody in the world thinks they are smarter than everyone else on some level. It’s just human nature. You have just asked the hiring manager to share their wisdom, making you the…second smartest person in the world. Employers would certainly want to have the second smartest person in the world working for them. Second, you have just gotten professional resume help, learned about hiring plans, and hopefully gotten a referral to someone who may be hiring and who may not have posted a position. Third, information interviews are interviews. They turn into jobs; maybe not today but someday.
Final note, send a hand written thank you card. Tell the person how much you liked them and the company. Include your resume again. Then follow up once a month. You will want a spreadsheet to track these. Send a resume every time you update it.
Try to do five info interviews a week if unemployed. More if possible. If employed but open to opportunities, try to have lunch or breakfast with someone new every month.
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