It has been estimated that one in 12 informational interviews results in a job, making info interviewing the most powerful form of job search networking.
The reason is simple: interviews with company insiders allow you to develop relationships and insights into your target employers before a job opening ever occurs. When a job later becomes available, you’re no longer an anonymous resume in a stack of 200; you’re already a top candidate. Sometimes the job is never even posted, so you may have little or no competition.
In last week’s post I mentioned three different types of informational interviews and focused on the Career Exploration Informational. This post focuses on the Company Insider Conversation (an event that can lead to a Hiring Manager Meeting, which I’ll discuss in next week’s post). In the fourth and final post in the series, I’ll share some crucial tips for success that apply to all types of informationals.
The Company Insider Conversation
Look for opportunities to talk with almost anyone who works in a company you’re interested in working in. Ideally, you’ll have a “target companies list” of 40-50 companies you’re focusing on. This is called targeted networking.
In this type of conversation you’ll be asking questions about the company and – very tactfully – questions that can help you navigate a path to getting hired there.
Why did I say “very tactfully”? Because it’s easy to scare off a contact – perhaps even before you’ve landed a meeting with them – by saying anything that makes them feel pressured to find you a job. (In fact, even calling it an “informational interview” can be a turnoff. Try calling it something like “a conversation about your experiences at XYZ Co. and how you got started there.” It sounds easier and more relaxed.)
Think of it as if it were a first date. You may be hot to trot, or you may be eager to get married and have children. But you’re getting way ahead of yourself – and turning the other person off – if that’s all you can think about. Usually you have to get acquainted first!
Focus on putting your company insider at ease, taking a sincere interest in the person and what he or she has to say. Enjoy having a comfortable, interesting professional discussion. There are all sorts of positive results that might – in good time – flow from this relationship, including referral to a hiring manager. But first, build relationship.
One of the best how-to resources I’ve found on doing this type of informational interview is The 2-Hour Job Search by Steve Dalton, which tells you how to create your target companies list, how to get people within those companies to talk to you, how to conduct the meeting, and how to follow up afterwards.
Here are some questions Dalton suggests asking during the meeting:
- What trends are most impacting your business right now?
- What surprises you most about your job?
- What can I do right now to best prepare for a career in this field/a job in this company?
- What resources should I be sure to look into next?
Notice that the last question is very vague. That’s intentional. Of course it will be great if the answer is, “Well, you should talk to X, she’s the one who hires people like you.” But unless you have a very good rapport with the person you’re talking to, asking “Who else should I talk to?” could be seen as an imposition. Use your social intuition to judge whether the time is right for that question.
Another excellent resource is The 20-Minute Networking Meeting by Ballinger and Perez, which focuses almost entirely on what goes on in the meeting itself. While Dalton’s book is indispensable when it comes to getting the meeting and following up, I prefer the Ballinger-Perez approach to the actual meeting. I’ve written a post with more details about the latter book.
“So how do I get company insiders to meet with me?”
Dalton recommends sending an email similar to this example from his book:
SUBJECT: Duke MBA student seeking your advice
Dear Mr. Jones,
My name is Brooke Franklin, and I am a first-year Duke MBA student who found your information in the Duke alumni database. May I have 20 minutes to ask you about your experience with IBM? I am trying to learn more about marketing careers at technology companies in North Carolina, and your insights would be very helpful.
I recognize this may be a busy time for you, so if we are unable to connect by mail I’ll try to reach you next week to see whether that is more convenient.
Thank you for your time.
Dalton calls this a “five-point email” because it follows these five guidelines:
1. 100 words or less
2. No mention of jobs (in subject or body)
3. Connection goes first (mention the person who referred you or something you have in common)
4. Generalize your interest (e.g., “technology companies in North Carolina”)
5. Maintain control of the follow-up
After the meeting: the crucial importance of keeping in touch
In your job search networking you may have heard people say “I’ll keep you in mind if I hear of any openings.” The intention is nice, but the fact is they they generally will not keep you in mind – unless you follow up.
Let’s say you took the time and effort to sit down and talk with someone. You gave them information and advice. And then you never heard back. You don’t know whether they took your advice. You don’t know whether it helped. You lose interest in helping them again. And you may even feel slighted or frustrated.
Having invested some time in another person’s success, you’re rooting for them and want to know how it turns out.
So if someone has given you information, ideas, suggestions or leads, follow up. Take action on what they told you, or at least research their ideas further. Report back to them with a brief email a couple of weeks later letting them know what you did and how their advice was useful to you. If you ran into a roadblock, mention how you’re working on overcoming it.
To help pave the way for your followup message, tell them during the meeting that you’ll update them “next Thursday” or “within a couple weeks.” Obligate yourself to follow up. That way, when your update arrives you will be perceived not as “bugging” the person, but as delivering on a promise.
Of course, it also helps to send your update on time, keep it brief and avoid asking for additional favors.
Your next steps
I’ve been referring to “the company insider” in the singular, but there’s also a numbers game involved here if you want to get hired soon. The more company insiders you talk to, the more likely it is that one of these info interviews will be that “one in 12” I referred to at the start of this article, the one that leads to a job.
So, what will you do this week to arrange meetings with people in, or knowledgeable about, your target companies?
As your company insider relationships mature though additional updates and sharing of information, some of them may result in introductions to hiring managers. Congratulations! In the next post I’ll offer tips for success with that most powerful form of informational interview.