Are you feeling stuck in your career, because you are still trying to figure out what your next move should be? It’s easy to sit behind your computer passively as the days go on while you “figure it out.” Many people try to search within themselves for the clarity they need in their career, but it is much more effective to go external for that clarity.
You’re always hearing that you need to network to advance your career, but unless you are skilled at professional networking, then you probably don’t know where to start. Trust me, I’ve attended tons of career fairs and networking events only to feel depleted and no further along than I was before those events.
I learned that I needed to go directly to the people in a position to help me. Informational interviews are the best ways of doing just that and are one of the most underrated strategies out there when it comes to advancing your career.
What is an informational interview?
An informational interview is an informal conversation with an expert where you are seeking advice and information about a potential career path. These meetings can be held over the phone, in person or even through online chat. You may think it sounds simple, but this process can be very powerful in bringing clarity and building your professional network.
Why do informational interviews work?
We tend to forget that people are the ones who fill jobs, not software. We get so comfortable submitting our resumes on websites and letting go of all the control of our career development. Think about this from a hiring manager’s perspective. There is a lot of risk in hiring someone based on a one hour interview, where people are putting their best face forward. When you take the time to build relationships, you are humanizing the process again and people want to work with people they like and trust. By taking the time to really understand a job and company, you are already separating yourself from 90% of your competition.
Resistance to informational interviews:
There are a lot of people who know in their mind that this process works and have bought in, but still they fail to reach out to people. They are uncomfortable putting themselves out there and it feels easier to continue to apply online, even if isn’t working and the jobs aren’t that desirable.
This is psychological resistance at work. We want to continue to do what we have always done, because “that’s the way it’s always been done.” You need to challenge this conventional mindset, because the best jobs are filled before they are even advertised. The jobs that make it to the job boards are usually not as desirable.
Common examples of resistance are:
“I don’t have a professional network.”
“No one is going to want to network with me.”
“What if they say no.”
These are all common fears that people have when it comes to reaching out to people and asking for help or advice. First, remember that everyone has a network and that will become more clear once you start to think more broadly about your network. Think about your parents friends, your extended family, neighbors, people at church, and people at the gym. The list goes on and on.
You will be surprised how many people that you don’t really know that well, who will be excited to help you out. Successful people love to meet and speak with other professionals who take that kind of initiative. Finally, it’s natural to fear rejection and not everyone will respond to your appeal for help, but the majority will be willing to spend time with you. You will be surprised how much value and information you get from these conversations and will learn much more than you ever would from a job description.
How do I go about asking for an informational interview?
The best approach to getting an informational interview is through introduction. You will want to have an idea of specific job titles you want to learn more about. This is where most people get stuck. They refuse to get specific about a job title before the meeting. Force yourself to write down 5 job titles that sound interesting and start with the first one.
It is important to have focus in your meeting. No one wants to meet with someone who has no clue what they want to achieve from the conversation. You don’t want to show up to this meeting and say, “Well, I think I kind of want to do sales, marketing, or customer service.”
You can’t expect this person to be your career coach. They are there to tell you about their career path and give you advice on what they have learned so far. The job title you pick does not have to be the one you stick with; this is a discovery meeting. The meeting will bring clarity and build your network at the same time, so you will be killing two birds with one stone!
When you are asking for an introduction, make sure you explain to your contact why you want to meet with this person. Offer to even write the email introduction for them, so they can just simply forward it to the person to save them time. If you don’t have someone to introduce you, then don’t worry you can contact people cold. This works as well because people love to give advice.
When asking for a meeting cold (without introduction), express that you are interested in learning more about their role, to find out if it might be a good fit for your next career move. Only ask for a small amount of time (15-20 minutes) and make sure you offer a location that is convenient to them, since you are the one asking for help.
Finally, always come prepared with questions. You don’t want to waste their time and you will be ready to follow up with questions, which will help to avoid any awkward silences.
This process works and it has worked for me, to identify opportunities before they were ever posted online! This will even work for you if you are looking for jobs in another state because you can schedule meetings by phone.
The success of this process all boils down to the relationship. The more you make it about building relevant relationships with people who have been in your shoes, the faster your career progress will be!
Author: Olivia Gamber is the founder of occupationalolivia.com, where she helps underutilized, Gen-Y professionals advance their career.