Over the years there’s been loads written about the value of “informational interviews,” the meetings you, the job-seeker, procure to find out more about an organization you’re interested in, while sort of pretending you’re not actually interested in a job there. These “interviews,” constitute a tricky dance between candidates and prospective employers, prompting many candidates to just throw in the towel and avoid them altogether. But that’s a mistake.
In service to you, I’d like to clear up any doubts about this multi-faceted tool and the impact these kinds of meetings can have on your career.
So What’s an Informational Interview, Anyway?
By definition, any type of interview is a way of gathering information, both for the applicant and the employer. Ideally, an interview is a moment for everyone to ask the right questions on both sides, develop an information base, and kick the tires to see whether there’s a match in terms of skill level, background, chemistry and organizational culture. Try as they might, organizations have been trying to get a handle on “culture fit” for years and years, with some standout companies going to herculean efforts to get it right. But for the most part it remains shrouded in mystery, while remaining the number one reason why new hires don’t work out.
Here’s What Not to Do
When looking for a job, most people, regardless of age and experience level, head straight to their computers, respond to a juggernaut of online applications, and call it a day. That’s it – no strategy, no contemplation or research about which kinds of organizations and roles could be a good fit. Instead, in being reactive to the market, it turns out, they miss out on the majority of job openings, since those posted account for only about 20% of available jobs. They also become disillusioned over time, since applying online means there is no feedback mechanism, no way of knowing whether your resume was ever viewed by a human being. Out of the loop, candidates quickly become insecure and lose confidence, wondering what they’re doing wrong. This is the moment when I often get a call asking for help.
Here’s How to Do The Right Thing
The opposite approach, which I and most other career experts advocate, is to do the work to figure out what kinds of roles makes the most sense, where you’d love to work, and who works at those organizations who you can contact on LinkedIn or over email. Let’s face it, your career is your life and you owe it to yourself to do your utmost to find and choose the right thing, and the more you put into it now, the better the payback later.
When you find a person of interest, you want to be able to say something reasonably compelling, as opposed to a direct “I want a job with your company.” Yep, that’s a turnoff. That’s where the “informational interview” technique comes in handy, as a way to ask someone to take a few minutes out of their busy work day to talk with you about who they are, why they do what they do, and what it’s like to do what they do, where they do it.
Now, to be clear, that person may not be hiring, or know of any openings at h/er company. And that question burning in your brain is not in fact the point of this conversation. All you’re doing is using your prodigious charm to invite people to talk about themselves while gathering information and seeing if you can find traction. Your 20-minute conversation could be the end of the line with that person, and that is perfectly okay. Or, when at the end of the conversation you politely ask if there’s someone else they suggest you speak with, they in fact do. And that next person maybe, just maybe, could be the person who decides to hire you.
Yes, the process can be tedious. No, you won’t necessarily know exactly where it’s going. But little by little this type of primary research – talking with lots of people – will lead you to a place that’s probably going to be more right for you than anything you would find staying in reactive mode and sending your resume again and again into that black hole – the online jobs’ Applicant Tracking System.
Here’s the Icing on the Cake
Over the 12 years I’ve been in business, I’ve seen a lot of clients kiss a lot of frogs. But the overwhelming evidence is that those who focused on having many conversations – in some cases, and I’ve written about them, 125 conversations – have landed multiple excellent job offers. Like with anything, the more you put into it, the more you receive. And to be honest, none of the informational interviews or conversations you’ll have will be a waste; you will always come away with something that will inform your next step. The process matters. So get out there, today, and come back with your inspiring stories. My readers and I would love to hear them.