Most of us don’t need to be convinced of the importance of networking. We know it’s likely we’ll land our next job through people that we know or we’ve met, and that most jobs are filled by contacts that come from personal relationships.
If you are starting a job search, a practical way to network is to have lots of informational interviews. There are several reasons why you should consider conducting informational interviews:
- You are exploring whether to pivot to a new role or function, or industry. Someone who is currently doing the work you could see yourself doing can help you clarify whether this is a job or profession you want to pursue.
- You want to establish a connection with people who have information about companies you are interested in joining. Creating a positive relationship can build another’s trust and confidence in your being an asset to the company you are interested in working for and inspire him/her to advocate for you when the right job comes along.
- You want to let a person who has influence in the hiring decision know of your interest and get to know you. A conversation with a leader within an organization who has a responsibility or a stake in identifying talent for an organization can be a conduit for getting you hired. Some informational interviews turn into “soft interviews.” The caliber of your questions and their positive perception of your fit with the organization can inspire them to sponsor you for a role or to connect you with others in the organization who also have decision-making power.
Here are some tips for ensuring the time and energy you spend in creating connections through an informational interview pay dividends:
Preparing for the Call
The informational interview requires preparation because you are scheduling someone else’s time for a specific reason. Networking meetings that go on too long and are unstructured and unfocused leave the person you’ve met with unimpressed and less likely to help you or to continue the relationship.
Do not begin networking (and certainly do not begin interviewing for jobs) until you’ve done your homework on the person you are meeting with, their company, and your story. Gain some familiarity about the company by reviewing the website, reading the company’s newsfeed on LinkedIn or Facebook, and even Googling any headlines trending in the media. Review your contact’s LinkedIn profile to see what you might have in common and to inform the questions you will want to ask. For your own preparation, be prepared to answer some common questions you might get, including being able to tell a brief and compelling synopsis of your work and educational history, why their company interests you particularly, and why you are interested in the function or industry you are pursuing. Remember that the conversation is really about them. You just want to give the other person enough information to know how they can be helpful to you.
Scheduling the Call
- Request 20 minutes
- Take the pressure off of their worrying you want them to help you get a job
- Make 3 attempts
Conducting the Call
Now let’s focus on what to say during those conversations so that it is a meaningful dialogue that leads to mutual benefit. Here’s the flow for a setting up and conducting a typical informational interview.
- (2-3 min): Thank you and chit-chat
- (1-2 min): Provide context about you and your purpose for making the call
- (12-15 min) : Ask questions; here are samples:
— What has been your path to this role?
— What do you enjoy/find challenging about the role?
— What do you anticipate to be your next move?
— What advice do you have for me with my job search? Career path?
— What organizations would you consider if you were on the market?
— Would you mind if we stayed in touch?
— OPTIONAL: Is there someone within your network you think I could benefit from speaking with?
- (2 mins): Thanks and wrap-up
- Follow up right after the meeting with a written thank you, and put in place a tracking system that reminds you to follow up regularly. Systematic check-ins yield maximum value.
Following up after the Call
Unless you have an update that includes time-sensitive or significant information, stay in touch every three weeks or a month. Positive networking gets additional contacts. After a professionally managed meeting, sealed with gratitude and the proper give-and-take, your contacts will be much more likely to refer you to their own contacts.
Networking is vital. It is the lifeblood of your job search and, in the big picture, your career. A strong network makes everyone more productive. It creates a community to share professional guidance, advice, and to build alliances.
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