Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Making a Career Change: Step 9 Informational Interviews

Previously: Step 8: Looking at Your Network

Now that you've been meeting people and have a list of your network it's time to start making contact with them in a more meaningful way.  Shaking a hands at an event and chatting is one thing. Actually getting something of value out of your network is something entirely different. In a business setting you'll want to set up informational interviews. If you want to reach out to someone in a more informal manner the informational interview may not necessarily be needed. Regardless of how you engage the person, your end goals are the same.

Step 9: Informational Interviews
This step will largely focus on the use of your network in a formal setting. If you are engaging a person in an informal setting because you already know the person or that is what makes the most sense, adapt what follows to suite your needs but don't lose sight of the two goals of this step:
  1. Gathering Information
  2. Extending Your Network
Let's face it, asking someone for a job can be awkward. Luckily, however, you don't even have to think about doing that. In fact, I recommend you get that part of this process out of your head completely and not think about it because it'll only get in the way and make you uncomfortable. Instead, focus only on these two goals.

The first goal of an informational interview is to gather information about your target industry. In almost all cases, the person you are talking to will not have a job for you nor will you want to ask that person for a job. The key is focusing on making contact with people, telling them about yourself, learning about them, what they do and the companies for whom they do it.  The second goal of the interview is to come away with the name of at least one additional person with whom you can make contact to set up another interview. If you keep these two goals in sight you will eventually make contact with the person who will lead directly to your next job and the best part is you likely won't even have had to ask for it. Eventually, the people you meet are going learn of job openings and you want to be the first person that comes to mind. So don't worry if they don't know of any openings right now because that's not what you want. The only things you need to focus on are gathering information and meeting more people.

First you need to ask for the interview. So who do you ask? Well, take a look at your network. If there are people in your network that you know who work in your target industry then it should be easy. Just ask the person if they wouldn't mind sparing a few minutes speaking with you because you are interested in learning more about what they do. If you don't know the person it takes a little more finesse. You may need to ask someone in your network to help you meet the person you actually want to interview. If they are an alumni from your college, call or email and start by saying that you are a fellow alumni. I am more than confident that you will find this person more than receptive to the idea of helping you out for a little while. If you don't have that connection, it gets even more formal because you have to name drop the person who referred you to them and then ask for their time. Linked In helps a lot with this process because it will identify the people you know who are connected to the people you want to talk to.

Conducting the actual interview should be a lot easier than setting it up because there is a very specific bit of advice you can live by. The #1 tip of informational interviews and networking as a whole is:

People LOVE to talk about themselves.

Yes, you need to communicate in a very clear and concise manner who you are, your experiences, what skills you have to offer, and what you hope to accomplish in the interview so start there in a very well constructed, rehearsed speech. Then transition to the person you are interviewing and let them do most of the talking. Simply ask the person to tell you about what they do, how they got where they are and what they think of the industry/company/job. Then your job is to just listen and take notes. The ensuing conversation should take up most of the rest of your time and provide you with some great insight from inside your target industry.

End the interview by asking the person 2 things:
  1. Do they have any advice for you as you make this transition?
  2. Is there is anyone else they know who would be a good person for you to talk to next?
#2 is actually the most important part of the interview. You want to walk out of there with another name so that you can extend your network. Finally, thank them for their time and you are done.  Then you can repeat the process with the person that was just mentioned. The more you do this the more you learn, the more people you meet, and the closer you get to finding your next job, the right job!

It should go without saying that you send a thank you note immediately after the interview. Feel free to do this by email or snail mail. In fact, you need to literally thank every person who helps you in anyway so it's best to make thank you notes a part of your muscle memory from the get go.

Up Next: Step 10: Applying For Jobs

No comments:

Post a Comment