Break Into the Hidden Job Market with Informational Interviews
While most people know that networking is an effective job search technique and in many cases have benefited from networking, there is still a fear associated with doing so. For several reasons, people are reluctant to step out of their comfort zone and connect with people in their job search.
“Fear and discomfort keep people from reaching out to people who could be the link to their dream job.”
Your ability to connect with the right people throughout your job search is essential to job search success, so if you let your fear and discomfort with approaching people for help and information hold you back, you’ll miss out on opportunities.
I don’t know many people who naturally love to network, but I know it’s possible to learn to like and embrace networking as part of your life and career. The people I know who have learned to like and embrace networking didn’t get there because someone told them it was a good idea. They actually experienced it for themselves. They applied the suggestion and saw results.
I coach my clients on how to confidently incorporate networking into their job search toolkit. Always, after completing career assessments, they’ll ask, “What’s next?” My answer is, “Get out there and meet people! Do some informational interviews.” While they know they should be doing this, they're either unsure of what to say, think they would be imposing on someone’s time, or are afraid people will deny their request to connect.
Those are all valid concerns. I’ve been there. I still get a little nervous about networking and conducting informational interviews. I’ve had people ignore my requests. But, I know it helps me get focused and achieve my goals, so I stick with it. I’ve used several techniques to make it easier for me.
Let’s look at some ways you can overcome those barriers while networking, especially when requesting informational interviews.
Reframe networking as an opportunity for learning and connecting. Basically, it’s about talking to people who are in the jobs, industries, or roles in which you are interested to gather information about what they do and how they got there. You can learn about opportunities that are likely not posted on job boards. It’s a way for you to gain visibility to showcase your knowledge, skills, experience. It helps you establish and maintain your professional brand.
Start with people you already know. You’re already networking anyway. Think about how you found your plumber, doctor, or dentist. Learning about career opportunities is no different. Everyone you know also knows other people. Those other people know other people. You get the picture. Without a whole lot of effort, your learning opportunities will expand.
Learn how to introduce yourself. “Is your 30-second Introduction a conversation starter or killer?” is an article I wrote that outlines how to confidently introduce yourself while networking. It can be used in person, on the phone or in an email introduction. For informational interviews, I would add a statement such as, “The type of career I’m interested in learning about is…and the one question I’d like to ask about that career is…” When making your request, keep it short and to the point, mention how you know about them, especially if you’re referred by a mutual connection, and the purpose of the discussion. To diminish back and forth emails or phone tag, suggest several times and places to meet.
Prepare for the informational interview. A little bit of homework will go a long way. Learn a little about the company, role, industry and individual with whom you’re meeting. The Occupational Outlook Handbook and O*Net provide good industry and job overviews. A quick look in LinkedIn can tell you about the person’s professional background, if they’ve got a profile there. Also, be prepared to talk about your interest in the company, role, industry and what, specific advice or information you’re seeking. Bring your updated resume, in case you have the opportunity to get some real time feedback.
Keep the conversation going. The informational interview is the first step to, perhaps, forming a longer term connection and can ultimately lead to job opportunities. Be sure to send a thank you note, then plan periodic check ins. A job seeker I know created a newsletter that went out to his contacts. In the newsletter, he sent updates, some useful job search tips and encouraging words. In his last newsletter, he reported that he found a full time job as a result of his networking efforts. A newsletter isn’t necessary, but keeping in touch with your contacts is important.
Connecting with people is an essential element of a career transition and job search. If you’re not connecting with people in your job search, a great resume is worthless. People hire people, not resumes or job applications. Your connections will serve you well especially in a challenging job market.
Are you ready to improve your chances of connecting to the job of your dreams? Let's talk about it.
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Markell R. Morris, MA, NCC, DCC is the owner of Futures in Motion, Inc. and creator of Career Visioning and Insight Coaching Program, an intensive career transformation program that guides career changers in making informed decisions about their career aspirations and clarifying what concrete steps to take to reach their career goals.
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