There are essentially two types of interviews you can be part of: the traditional interview you get invited to and the less popular but equally effective interview you arrange yourself. This second type is generally referred to as an informational interview; one you initiate and take the lead on, designed to gather information rather than apply for a job.
The problem for many people is that interviews are seen as a negative experience; only to be endured and tolerated as a means of getting a job, and the fewer the better. So the idea of voluntarily initiating further interviews with people – and taking the lead at conducting it, just isn’t remotely appealing.
Yet, more and more we hear the advice of experts that we should be out there networking. Not very often does the advice we get include who to talk to and how to get the conversations started; even less so on how to keep them going. So here’s a few ideas.
Think about the people who currently work in the jobs you’re interested in, and for the companies you find highly desirable. These are the people you’d likely benefit from having conversations with. The key is to approach them when there is no job currently advertised, for it’s likely they’ll decline any invitation to have a chat at that point out of a desire to avoid any conflict of interest.
20 – 30 minutes is what your after. Less than 20 minutes just isn’t sufficient and anything longer should be entirely up to them to extend their time voluntarily. So how do you get to meet? Initiate a phone call, explain you’re doing some research into the field in general, the position they hold in particular, and you’d love to have 20 minutes of their time. Make yourself available on their schedule by the way, not yours.
Okay so you’ve got a meeting set up and now it’s up to you to come prepared with questions. Have these down on paper and come prepared to take notes; bring along your resume to share and get some feedback on as well.
What to ask? This is the hardest part in the beginning and why some people refuse to try; they simply get anxious wondering what they should say. Well, think about what you want to know; what’s important to you. You might want to ask about what their worst day looks like. Not as an opening question of course, but at some point, finding out what the worst day they experience looks like can reveal if you’re up for it or not. Of course, finding out what success looks like is key too.
What keeps them up at night? This question gets at problems and concerns they have in the job that might spell an opportunity for you. First and foremost, will you worry about the same things they do if you’re in the job and can you handle what the job would have you potentially taking home? The thing they worry about most might be something you can address or at the very least prepare yourself for. Keep in mind that just because they hold the job you’d like, they are a different person than you, and their worries need not be yours. You might be creative and innovative whereas they aren’t, and their biggest worry might be something your ingenuity has an answer for.
Asking what advice they’d give themselves were they in your situation is a thought-provoking question because they have inside knowledge of the role, and they know now what they’d do differently. As you’re entering the field, you have the opportunity to bypass mistakes they’ve made, maybe concentrate on some key aspect of the business that is emerging or trending.
The biggest and best thing you can do is listen with crystal clear focus. If they sense you’re asking questions but not really engaging in what they say, they’ll shut down, give you surface, predictable answers and send you packing quickly. If however, you listen intently and with a peaked interest, they may extend the time, give you sincere help and drop a nugget or two for you that they didn’t plan on doing when you first walked in. These nuggets are golden opportunities and will help you strengthen a future interview.
An unusual question but a good one is to ask what you should be asking but aren’t. You know, that one thing that might be the make or break factor to getting hired or rejected. Only they will instantly think of whatever it is that’s essential when you ask this question. What immediately comes to their mind is what you’re after.
Networking is about creating and nurturing ongoing relationships and something you want to leave with is another person to potentially meet; someone you’ve been referred to by the person you’re now meeting. Ask for a name and see if they’d be willing to introduce you or at the minimum, allow you to mention their name as referring you on. This referral is a pass that gets you in where your competition might be blocked.
By the way, when you’re done, leave them with a handshake, a smile, a word of gratitude for their time and follow up with a short thank-you card – not an email.
Networking is having conversations and it’s these that may help you; it is still often who you know.