You’ve heard of the informational interview, and you may have thought these were just for kids looking for their first job out of college. Think again!
Informational interviews are an essential component of your job search, especially if you’ve been out of the workforce for a while. An informational interview is when you have an informal conversation with someone who works in a field you’re interested in or at a company you’re interested in. I’m going to walk you through how to conduct a successful face-to-face informational interview from start to finish. Here is a Quick Glance Graphic of an informational interview that will also be helpful.
A good informational interview starts with clear goals in mind.
3 Goals to keep in mind when doing an informational interview:
1 Learn about your interviewer’s job, company and industry.
This information will help you target your job search and perform better in interviews.
2 Enlist your interviewer as an advocate.
When you show up for the interview looking sharp, meticulously prepared and wanting to share information, your interviewer is going to want to mention your name in their next conversation with their HR resource or colleagues who have job openings.
3 Offer knowledge and contacts that will benefit your interviewer.
Informational interviewing isn’t all about learning – if done correctly it’s also about teaching. You want to have some knowledge that you can offer to your interviewer that will benefit them. It’s a two-way street.
My formula for a winning informational interview
Step 1: Do your research
You must be knowledgeable about the industry and role you are going to talk to people about. Although you’re there to gather information, researching in advance will give you context for what you’re going to learn and enable you to carry on an intelligent conversation. Good sources for research: Local business news to learn who’s hiring and who’s laying off locally, online job postings from Indeed or Glassdoor to learn about the skills required in the industry and company websites and LinkedIn pages.
Step 2: Pick your target
I recommend starting with an easy target to get warmed up – ask your neighbor, a friend or a friend’s spouse if they’d meet you for coffee. Keep your ask simple and casual – it’s fine to do it via email. Here’s an example:
I know you’ve been at Lenovo for a few years and had a lot of success there. I’m interested in returning to tech product marketing. I’d really appreciate a few minutes of your time to talk about your role and the industry. Would you have time to meet next week? Do any of these days/times work for you?
Monday, March 16 at 9am
Wednesday, March 18 at noon
Friday, March 20 at 2pm
Thanks for considering my request.
Once you have a few of these meetings under your belt, you will have the confidence and contacts to move on to hiring managers and recruiters – actual decision-makers in the hiring process. Here’s what an ask can sound like as you approach these higher-value targets:
Karen Smith suggested I contact you to talk about your role at Cisco. I’m a former marketing manager with 5 years of experience in the tech industry and I’m currently looking for a new opportunity. I’d really appreciate a few minutes of your time to talk about your role and the industry. I’ve done quite a bit of research on cloud computing and would love to get your perspective on where the industry is headed. Would you have time to meet next week for a cup of coffee? If a phone call is more convenient, I’d really appreciate your time and be happy to work around your schedule. Do any of these days/times work for you?
Monday, March 16 at 9am
Wednesday, March 18 at noon
Friday, March 20 at 2pm
Thanks for considering my request.
Step 3: Plan an agenda for your informational interview
An agenda will help keep your interview moving along and productive. You requested the meeting, so you should drive it. Respect your interviewer’s calendar and stick to the agreed-upon time limit. You may want to position yourself where you can see a clock without being distracted or place your phone (on silent) on the table so you can glance at it occasionally to keep on track.
Download a Sample Agenda for a 30-Minute Interview Here
Step 4: Execute the Plan: Learn, Share and Get Referrals
Buy the coffee and start the conversation off on a friendly note by thanking them for their time. Then give your elevator pitch, learn about their industry and job and share with them what you know from your research. Ask to be referred to others who are open to a conversation and might have wisdom to share about your intended field.
Step 5: Follow up
After they depart, take a few minutes and jot down everything they told you that might be useful. Compose a thank you email – keep it brief and mention any next steps either of you agreed to take (“I look forward to having you introduce me via email to your friend Bob”). Then look up your interview partner on LinkedIn and send them a personalized invitation to connect if you haven’t already done so.
After you connect with Bob and have a conversation, the savviest networkers will email back to the person who connected you to say “Thanks for this introduction. I spoke with Bob this morning and he was extremely helpful, just as you said he’d be. I really appreciate your efforts.” Everyone likes to think of themselves as a connector of people and you just confirmed with someone that they are exactly that.
Boom. Done. Network grown. Industry knowledge gained. Advocate secured. Pat yourself on the back and then find three more people to engage in informational interviews this week. You didn’t think I was going to let you off that easy, did you?
If you’re feeling stuck in your job search or just need some fresh new ideas about how to move the ball forward, here is my list of Top 10 Resources for Job Seekers. Many of these are free and easy to take advantage of. So whether you’re ready to return and find yourself at an impasse, or if you just want to think ahead, pick one of these to investigate this week.
My Top 10 Resources for Women Returning to Work
- Community College – many of their job search classes are free to job-seekers. This is also a great place to take low-cost classes that help you demonstrate that you’re a continuous learner and fill your skill gaps.
- Job search groups – many of these are run out of churches, and you don’t always have to be a member of the church to join the group. They provide support, community and speakers on topics of interest to job seekers. In my area, for instance, First Baptist in Cary runs a big job-seeking group.
- Groups that provide technology skills training, some are focused specifically on women:
- Women Who Code is a national group that holds meetings, runs courses and provides lots of online resources
- Mozilla offers online resources and courses for learning and refreshing tech skills
- Girl Develop It – now in 58 cities, they offer meet-ups for women learning to code
Meet-Ups seem to have a group for every specific coding language that exists! Google “code meet-ups (your city name)” to find out what exists in your area
- Local networking groups that hold periodic networking lunches and events for women. This is a great way to meet people and make new connections. Again, either google or search MeetUp.com to find groups. Remember, you must get out of the house and meet people to advance your job search!
- Flexjobs is an online job board that posts flexible and part-time jobs
- If you need professional help putting your resume together, there are plenty of coaches out there who will help you with this and you can find them on LinkedIn. We use Mir Garvy of RTP Resumes or Catherine Tuttle of Forward Thinking Resumes. Both of these resume experts will work with you remotely if you’re not local and are interested in their services.
- Here’s a terrific book that I highly recommend: Back on the Career Track by Vivian Steir Rabin and Carol Fishman Cohen. It’s written just for stay-at-home-moms returning to the workforce and full of practical advice. Reinventing You by Dorie Clark is another great read that will inspire you on your job search. Dorie’s advice: “Find the common thread between your past and where you want to go in the future.”
- Learn a new skill or refresh a current one by taking online courses on LinkedIn Learning, Coursera, or Udemy.com. There are smart and economical ways to brush up on your Excel skills and many others, and some of these courses are free.
- Additional online resources that focus on women:
- Power To Fly – job board that staffs women on virtual jobs
- Werk – Werk’s mission is to promote flexibility in the workplace
- Apres – online resource and job board for women returning to work
Let me know what other resources you have found to be helpful.
Whether you are re-launching your career, making a career change or bringing in more business for your own venture, you simply must be “LinkedIn” these days. Use these tips to update your profile and get the most out of your LinkedIn experience.
Approach LinkedIn as a professional reconnecting with colleagues in the working world and finding ways to make a meaningful contribution. This tilt in attitude will help you enter with confidence instead of as someone who wants a job. Just as you are eager to expand your network, so are others. People will welcome your invitations to connect.
Sign up for a free LinkedIn account
First things first. A free account is all you need. You can decide after you’re using it regularly if you need the deluxe model and are willing to pay for it.
Turn off your Notification
Start by clicking on your picture icon on the bar at the top of the page. Go to Settings & Privacy, then scroll down to ” Share job changes, education changes, and work anniversaries from profile”. Change that setting to “No”. This is just while you’re getting set up. We want to prevent your network from being notified of every change you make as you update your profile as you build out your page. Once your profile is to your liking, go back and turn this notification to “Yes”. You’ll want to notify your network when you are adding a skill, a recommendation or a new position (!), but not right now while you are completing your profile and making edits. Build out your profile before you make lots of connections. Then start by connecting with people you know.
Create/Update your Profile
Now for the heavy lifting. Recruiters and hiring managers view your LinkedIn profile as the new version of the resume, and it could be the first thing they see – even before there is a job posting to respond to. So update your profile the right way – and do this before making connections – but know that your profile is an evolving creation that you will be editing regularly.
Even a clown uses a professional photo! You are selling the image that will get you that job, whether it is for a data manager or a clown. A professional photo is important because you’ll be reconnecting with people from the past and with people who have just interviewed you and might need to be reminded of who you are. In fact, professional photos are so important that we make it a priority at The Back to Business Women’s Conference to have a professional photographer on-hand to take photos for everyone. If you need to get yours done, I urge you to spend the money to have it done professionally. This is an investment that is well worth it. There is data to show that profiles with pictures get a much higher percentage of looks and connection invitations.
The first thing people see after your name and photo is your headline. It is not just a job title — pack it with keywords to attract others to read your profile. It does not need to be your current position (or lack thereof) since that will appear again under Experience. It should be strong and personal but not too salesy. Some examples include:
- Experienced Project Manager with pharmaceutical industry experience
- Competitive Intelligence Professional who applies data analytics to enhance decision making
- Certified Professional Facilitator | Helping Teams to get from Chaos to Clarity
- or just pack your “title” with keywords that relate to the job you want and the skills you have. Here’s an example:
Talent Management | Leadership Development | Succession Planning | Diversity & Inclusion | Executive Coaching
Customize your profile URL to include your name by following these steps:
- Click on your profile in the left sidebar to edit your URL.
- Then click on the blue pencil icon next to the box that says “More”.
- Scroll all the way down to the “Contact Info” section of the pop-up box to select your own customized URL. Keep it as simple as possible.
- Then add your personalized LinkedIn URL to your resume and email closing when sending out professional correspondence.
Take a moment right now to look up keywords that are applicable to your field of interest if you haven’t already done this for your resume. Use LinkedIn profiles for people in your line of work and job descriptions to find several keywords they use and then be sure to use them in your summary. When you use keywords in many areas of your LinkedIn profile, recruiters have a better chance of finding you.
This is an essential place to tell readers who you are and what makes you great. Be creative with this – you want to stand out and show enthusiasm – but use those keywords here and keep it professional.
Use your updated resume to populate your Experience section with your work history, education, and certifications. Pull out your biggest accomplishments at each job you’ve held to add to your LinkedIn “Experience” section. Don’t list all of your responsibilities: You just want to highlight your accomplishments here. Be sure to include new volunteer positions, skills training and organization memberships. The Back to Business Women’s Conference is a professional development opportunity, and as such can be included under the Interests or Organizations section of your LinkedIn profile. Also, be sure to join our LinkedIn group called “Back to Business Women’s Conference” and contribute to or start a discussion here.
So now you’re ready to start using LinkedIn and making connections. Turn your notification back on. Start with low-hanging fruit – connect with people that LinkedIn recommends for you. You are looking for quality connections: If there is someone you’d like to meet, you can ask for an introduction from a common connection. Set yourself a goal to make a specific number of new connections each day and track your progress. These could be former co-workers, friends and professional acquaintances. When you reach out be sure to note what they are doing and offer a kind word or a quality recommendation for a fantastic former co-worker. Remember that right now as you are connecting, you should be seeing how you can help them.
Tip: When you are requesting a connection with someone (especially someone you don’t know personally), be sure to include a personal note in the connection request that establishes why you want to connect. The generic LinkedIn request of “I’d like to add you to my professional network” is so impersonal!
Recommendations are testimonials to your service, expertise and skills. Ask others for recommendations and be willing to write a recommendation for them as well. Former co-workers, managers and clients are the best people to ask. If you’ve been out of the paid workforce for a while, think about asking people you’ve volunteered with to write you a recommendation.
Groups and Online Learning
Join a group (such as the Back to Business Women’s Conference group) under the Interests tab and get involved in a discussion. This will help to make you known to others in your field so be sure you are contributing in a constructive manner! Belonging to several groups but not participating will not help you. Similarly, check out some of the online learning opportunities – LinkedIn Learning offers online training on a variety of topics and adds completion links automatically to your LinkedIn Profile. Join your alumni organizations’ group, local networking groups and a professional group that interests you.
Use and Update
Use LinkedIn on a regular basis – the more you use it, the more likely you will come up on others’ radar. Keep your profile up-to-date and be sure to add any new skills, training programs or professional affiliations. Offer endorsements of skills for those who are deserving and recommendations where appropriate. Your connections will likely do the same for you.
Use LinkedIn to research potential companies and expand your list of target companies. Get to know everything about them and make new connections who work there. Know where your friends are working and check out who they’re connected to.
LinkedIn is another social media outlet that will demand some time upfront. Knowing how people make a living is a good use of your time for your own future, as is having them find out about you.
As employers look to speed up their hiring processes, more are turning to video interviewing in order to screen candidates. Video interviewing can take many different forms and for the purposes of this article, I’m referring to an interview in which a candidate uses a video interviewing tool to respond to questions asked of them on screen.
Since interviewing with a machine is different than interviewing with an actual human, here are a few things you need to know to ace your video interview:
- Be good – fast! Video interview platforms promise recruiters the ability to quickly scan through large numbers of video interviews. Translation: if they don’t like your video immediately, they’ll skip to the next candidate. It’s not only critical for you to make a positive first impression but to do so quickly. Don’t save your best stuff for later in the interview. Have an introduction that you have practiced and can deliver skillfully to grab the recruiter’s attention and ensure they keep watching.
- Questions will be very specific and easy to understand since you have no way to ask for clarification during a video interview. The good news is that you should expect the usual interview questions such as “Tell me about your work experience”, “Why are you interested in this job/this company” and “What do you know about our company/our products?” Since you can anticipate the questions, there is no reason to not be 100% prepared.
- Recruiters are looking for the same qualities in candidates whether the interview is conducted in person or over a video interview platform. Video Recruit is one such platform and they promise recruiters “you get an immediate and accurate insight into their character, competencies and communication skills.”
- Speaking of communication skills, yours are on full display during a video interview. Again, practice is essential for you to shine in this environment. Record yourself answering interview questions with your phone and then evaluate your performance. Although you may not enjoy hearing your own recorded voice, this will give you the chance to notice any communication quirks you have. Did you say “um” or “like” more than you should? Cutting out these filler words from your speech goes a long way toward helping you make a great impression as a polished communicator. Did you ramble on too long? Not address the question that was asked? The only way to find out is to video yourself and then watch.
- Keep it brief! You are likely to get as many as 6 questions during a video interview and will have a predetermined time period to answer each one, which may be as long as 5 minutes. Ever heard someone talk for 5 full minutes about themselves? BORING! Even if you are allowed 5 minutes, I suggest you do not take it all. 2-3 minutes should be plenty of time to answer a question, especially if you are prepared with a concise answer. Be aware of how much time you have to respond to the question and wrap it up before you run out of time. Your awareness of and ability to manage time is something recruiters will take notice of.
- It’s a level playing field. The good news is that in a video interview all candidates for a given position will receive the same questions and have the same amount of time to answer them. This removes some of the potential bias that can be present in the interview process but also removes your ability to connect on a personal level with your interviewer. Your challenge thus becomes demonstrating your human side in your recorded answers. Be sure to inject some warmth into your responses and don’t forget to smile!
- You choose the setting of your interview – choose wisely! Make sure you’re in a quiet place and pay attention to what’s behind you as a busy background will be distracting. I suggest being seated at a desk or table that replicates a professional setting. Have a glass of water nearby in case you need a sip between questions. And, naturally, dress appropriately for a professional interview.
- Pay attention to the rate of your speech – don’t talk too fast! Interview nerves can cause you to speed up but take a deep breath and remind yourself to slow down so you can be understood. Also, be sure you’re speaking loud enough to be heard and don’t mumble!
Remember, the 3 keys to acing a video interview are practice, practice and practice. Your preparation should help you start strong which is key in this format. A recruiter won’t watch your whole interview if you don’t make a great first impression.
Video interviewing is a speedy way for recruiters to see lots of candidates. Let your personality shine through and focus your answers on what you can do for the company so they can quickly and easily evaluate your fit for the position.
Fluency in Microsoft Excel is not just a nice-to-have: it’s a requirement for many jobs and considered a foundational job skill. If it’s been a while since you’ve used Excel, or you’ve never quite mastered it, I encourage you to get comfortable with this tool. When you’re in a job interview, you’ll want to demonstrate your mastery of Excel by describing a recent project where you used it and talking about the Excel refresher you just took.
There are many resources out there, including friends and family members, you could use to brush-up your Excel skills. Contextures.com is a great resource – I receive their weekly tips and training suggestions.
Excel – My Favorite Function
I use Excel at work every day and have a few favorite tricks I’ll share. You’ll need to use your computer, instead of a mobile device, so you can follow along with me for our Excel mini-lesson.
Sorting and Filtering –
This is where Excel really shines for me! When I have a spreadsheet full of numbers, it’s useless until I can extract some type of insight out of it. Sorting and filtering the data so I can look at it from different angles or drill down in one area is the best way I’ve found to bring data to life.
Do this along with me so you can really learn how this works.
Step #1: Get a sample excel file from http://www.contextures.com/xlSampleData01.html
Step #2: Copy and paste the data file labeled “Sample Data” into excel so we can work with it (step-by-step instructions are on the page)
Step #3: Save the file so you’ll have it to practice with
Step #4: At the top left of your data file is a gray triangle – click this to highlight your entire worksheet:
Step #5: On the far-right side of the tool bar across the top of your spreadsheet, find the “Sort & Filter” drop-down menu, click on it, then select “Filter”.
You’ll see drop-downs that look like little triangles appear in the corner of the top cell of each of your data columns:
Now we’re ready to filter the data! This is really exciting!
Step #6: This table contains sales data for an imaginary stationary company. The sales are listed in chronological order, but let’s filter this table to see the sales for each region so we can determine which region is doing the best.
Click on the drop-down in the “Region” cell, then click on “Select all” to deselect this and then click on “Central”. Now you see just the orders for the Central region.
Step#7: Let’s drill down on each rep’s orders. Click on the drop-down in column C. Deselect “Select All” and then select Andrews. Now you can see just Andrews orders in the Central region.
If you look at the bottom of your table, you’ll see that Excel has tallied the number of records for you: There are 4 records showing when you filter on Andrews in the Central region.
Step #8: To go back to your full data table, select the drop-down for the columns where you have filtered the data and click on “select All”. Your full data table should re-appear.
Step #9: Play around with the data table and find some different ways to sort the data and gather insights from the table.
Now you know how to filter data in an Excel table, which is a great skill to have!
Bonus Excel Tip: When you have a data table, shade the first row a light color and bold the text to make your header row stand out. If there’s one column of data in particular that you want to highlight, shade it so that your reader’s eye will immediately be drawn to the important part of the table. Always make your tables visually appealing.
I encourage you to update your Excel skills. Check your local market for refresher courses or there are plenty of online tutorials.
Need some data to practice with and a reason to use Excel? Put your household budget in Excel so you can get your finances in order while brushing up on this extremely useful tool.