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Episode 26 - How To Guide: Winning Informational Interviews

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In today’s episode, I’m going to talk all about informational interviews.

Find the full show notes for this episode at RecoveringCorpoholics.com/26. 

As we have discussed, 85% of jobs are landed by networking. So how can you increase your network and also learn more about a career? Informational Interviews!

An information interview is an opportunity to connect with someone to learn more about a specific area of interest to you. 

 

Information interviews are helpful as it allows you to take your research to the next level and learn from someone who is actually doing what you want to do.

 

Informational interviews can expand on your level of understanding and it helps build your network. Not only do you get answers you need to help make your next career move, but you also get to meet potential people who could refer you to roles (a win, win!).

 

It may feel strange reaching out to people you don't know, however, most people like taking time out of their day to talk about their career and to give advice. Studies show that people love talking about themselves!

 

According to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 85% of jobs are filled by networking. So it's important to be building and nurturing your network. And what better way to do that then to hold informational interviews!

 

From preparing to wrapping up informational interviews, this episode will go through everything you need to know in order to conduct successful information interviews.

 

1. Determine your main outcome/goal

Before reaching out to anyone, you'll want to determine what it is you are trying to achieve. Do you need a referral or a recommendation, do you want to just expand your network, do you want to learn more about different career paths or industries?

Depending on the goal, the question types, the # of people to reach out to, how long the process will take, etc., will all change. So set yourself up for success by knowing what you need to do and how you will know you have reached your goal.

For this guide, we are going to assume the goal is to help narrow down career paths and potentially get a referral.

2. Find the jobs / companies / industries you want to apply for

Once you know your main goal, it's time to find jobs / companies / industries that you want to explore.

 

Now if you’re not sure what you want to do, but you know the type of firm or the type of career path you want to go down, it’s super helpful in this stage as your research is going to be more targeted.

For example, if you know you want a career in marketing but are not sure what, do your research; google: 'marketing roles' or 'marketing firms' and write down all the jobs you like.

 

You can even look at the job descriptions and pull out all the responsibilities you like and search on those to see if other jobs come up. Same thing If you want to do something in art, finance, teaching, etc.

Now, if you’re not sure what you want to do, don’t worry! This is where I come in. I hardly have a client who knows what they want to do next, I mean if they did, they wouldn’t be reaching out to me! So just know, you are not alone!!

If you are not sure what you want to do, the first thing you need to do is assess yourself. What are the things you like to do, what are the skills you have that you want to utilize, what makes you feel successful. 

Take the time to really think about it. Now, there are assessments that you can do to help but you really need to be working with a certified career professional to properly assess those results. 

I know I get jobs such as an accountant or gov’t worker each time I do any assessment but the reason behind it is that I like the process/ making things efficient, and that can apply to any job.

 

So although assessments can be extremely helpful, you need to be careful of how you analyze the results. AKA don’t take them word for word!

Now once you make a list of the skills and interests you’d like to work with, then start searching for those keywords and see what jobs pull up. 

And I want to caveat by saying, keep an open mind when it comes to education and salary.

 

If you filter too much, you might miss out on some jobs that could interest you. Yes, the salary listing may be lower, but that's only that job. What comes after that job? Again, the point here is to explore! 

Note, you can also do step 3 interchangeably with step 2. Maybe you have friends (of friends) in marketing, you can reach out to them to help you explore careers as well.

3. Research and make a list of who you could reach out to

In the next step, you really want to narrow down what you want to learn more about. Before it may be a career in marketing, but now it is: I want to explore Social Media Manager, a Buyer or a role in Advertising. 

So once you have your list of the companies you want to pursue or job roles you want to learn more about, go to LinkedIn and search for people who work at those companies or who work in that role.

To do this, just enter in the LinkedIn search bar "Company name" or "role". Search then hit people.

 

You can then filter on connection: 1st (connected), 2nd (mutual connection) or 3rd (Stranger), their current and past companies, school, industry, language, what they're open to, etc. Keep scrolling through till you find people who you think you'd network best with.

 

Tips: Depending on your comfort level, try to work with 1st connections first, then 2nd, followed by 3rd. I'd also look for someone with recent activity as you know they sign on. If they are not active, they won't see your message until (who knows!).

4. Send out initial requests

Once you find who you want to reach out to, it's time to send out some messages!

I like to be very strategic when sending messages. Yes, people know what you're trying to do (we all do it!) but we want to see your initiative, that you are at least trying and being professional (in my opinion). So when reaching out, be clear, be friendly and be engaging!

You will have to do some homework here but don't do too much. I recommend doing most homework once the person responds (so you don't waste any time).

Here are some good and not so good examples of initial requests:

 

Good:

  • Hi X, I came across your profile and wow, what a career you've had! I have been in the x industry for some time and am exploring new career paths and would love to get your take on the x industry. Let me know if you'd be open to chatting.

  • Hi X, There's an opening at a job you've had in the past and I was wondering if you'd be open to chatting about your experience. I am thinking of applying but before I do, want to get the real scoop ( 100% confidential).

 

Not so good:

  • Hi X, I see that you work at X and I saw there is a job opening. Could you refer me?

  • Hi X, I see that you work at X and I want to know details about a job that's open. Let me know when you're free. TIA.

  • Hi X, I'd love to know more about your company and what you do there! LMK!

 

Note, if you are not connected with the person you want to reach out, your message may be limited to 300 characters. See my guide that has instructions.

 

5. Prepare

Once the person responds back and you've set a time up, do your research: What questions do you want to ask them? What are they interested in? What have they posted about/shared? How can you connect with them in an engaging way?

 

Note, for a list of great open-ended questions, see page 8 of the guide.

In addition to preparing, you should also develop your pitch and what you want to highlight about yourself so you avoid saying anything you want unsaid. This is especially true if you get nervous.

The more you prepare, the better. However, do it until you feel comfortable. I may not go crazy unless it's someone I really want to impress.

For example, if I just want to reach out to someone my level and ask them about a previous role, maybe I wouldn't spend that much time researching.

 

However, if it is someone who I know could refer me, I'd want to spend more time researching and preparing so I can make a good first impression.

Remember, the point of the informational interview is not just to ask for advice and learn, it's also a chance for you to make an impression and grow your network. You want to leave people with a positive impression and to want to refer you to others / jobs.

Tips on Conducting Interviews

  • Dress nice and appropriately, like you would for an interview in that career.

  • Always be on time, if not, early.

  • Be prepared to lead the interview just in case the conversation doesn't flow.

  • Respect the time frame. If you're close to time, you can say: "It's getting close to Xpm and I want to respect your time. I'd love to keep chatting but if you need to go, I understand".

  • Come up with points to talk about yourself of how you can relate.

  • Come up with some phrases, such as, wow, very interesting, fascinating, cool - whatever, so you are not saying the same response every time.

  • Have a resume prepared but don't expect to send it unless asked for it.

  • Keep in mind that your outcome is to gain knowledge and advice, not a job.

  • With that said, don't ask if they are hiring or anything about applying.

  • Don't ask questions you can easily find the answers to.

  • Be happy, engaging (don't be intense/too serious!). Set the tone for the interview!

 

6. Open the conversation up strong

When starting off the conversation, you want to say something that shows you took the time to get to know them (+ your pitch). This shows you are serious about getting to know them and also makes the other person feel valued.

The last thing you want is to make the person feel like they are being used, that you have no intention of getting to know them and only need them for something.

Example Opening:

Hi X, thanks for taking the time to chat with me. Does this time still work? [Great] Again, I want to thank you for taking the time to chat with me about your career. As you know, I am interested in changing careers and I love what you've been able to accomplish. I hope to transition to something similar! With that said, could you..

 

7. Set the tone

Now that you opened up the conversation, keep the person talking. According to the Scientific American Journal, research suggests that people love talking about themselves because it makes them feel good.

Talking about oneself activates the same areas in the brain that light up when we experience pleasure (i.e., eating sugary foods, etc.). In summary, talking about ourselves gives us a neurological buzz, aka it makes us feel good!

Why is this important? Because you want the person you are talking to feel good. Once they are feeling good, they are more open to having the conversation. And if you get the person to like you, it raises your chances for success aka that referral!

So how do you do this? Ask them about their career, their experiences, something you saw that they are interested in. Some great questions to start are:

  • How did you get to where you are?

  • What do you like most/the least about your job or what is the most rewarding?

 

8. Getting what you need

Once you opened up the conversation and built a good report, it’s time to get what you came for: Answers to the questions you need to move forward in your career search. This is where all your prep work comes in!

  • What are the worst parts of the job / company / industry?

  • What do you wish someone had told you before you got into your job / career?

 

9. Wrapping up

After you get the information you need, ensure to thank them for the time and ask if you could follow up again in the future and if there is anyone else that they'd recommend you reaching out to as you continue networking / researching.

This way, it will be easier and faster to build your network (i.e., instead of blindly reaching out, you're now saying: 'Joe Smith said you'd be a great person to connect with re: xxx'). This way makes people trust you more and more likely to talk to you.

Tip: It helps to be as specific as possible. Our brain wants to narrow down options so make it easier on the person you are talking to by asking them to select from a pool of people vs everyone.

For example, ask if they know of anyone else who they know who has transitioned careers you could talk to, or people in other fields of marketing you could talk with to further explore this career path.

Now, if you want, and if you feel like you have a connection with the person, you can ask about a job opportunity you saw and ask if they think you're a fit /if they'd be comfortable referring you if a position came up.

 

It all depends on the conversation! I'd wait and let the person run with the ask vs you bring it up, that's just me.

 

10. Send a Thank you

At the completion of the call, send a quick note to the person thanking them for their time and 1-2 points on what you got out of it/what you enjoyed.

 

It's the little things for me that go the long way. Remember, you want the person to feel valued! That is what's going to leave a lasting impression. (Note, don't ask for a referral here!).

 

11. Going above and beyond - Save your notes

At the end of the interview, write up some notes and save them. Even add a note on your calendar to reach back out to them. You can give them an update on where you stand or even send something that might interest them. This is where pro networkers excel.

 

Afterthoughts

  • Don't let a bad interview get in the way of conducting more.

  • Don't let negative feedback stop you from pursuing that career.

  • Even if you didn't get what you were looking for, still be gracious.

  • Play the long game. You may not get what you want at first, but keep the relationship going. Some say it takes at least 3x conversations to get something.

 

Stay Inspired and live powerfully, 

Felicia

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