Informational Interviews Can Accelerate Your Job Search
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.
Clarify Your Goals
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.
Your Game Plan
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?
Should I discount myself?
I recently got this question from a woman I was working with in my group coaching course. She was thinking about what she would name as her compensation requirements in an interview. She knew what her (quite impressive) skills and experience were worth on the job market, but as a woman restarting her career after a break to raise kids, she thought “Should I discount myself”?
Common question – let’s break it down:
Doing compensation research is critical to getting paid fairly. Here’s how to do that:
- Find 4-5 sources that provide compensation information for the role you are considering. I like salary.com, payscale.com, comparably, the Robert Half Salary Report, and also Glassdoor for company-specific data.
- Calibrate these for your geographic area and/or the region where this company is based if it’s a remote role. If it’s a big company operating in multiple geographic regions, then do a Google search to find out if they vary their compensation based on geographic region or if they are location-agnostic with their offers.
You’ll want 5 data points so you can make sure you aren’t relying on one outlier statistic. You might notice that one of these sources gives you a number that is much higher or lower than the others – that’s your outlier.
3. Put your 5 numbers in a table and then come up with a range that hits the high middle of the numbers.
- For example, you might consult 5 sources and collect the following numbers for the same job: $75,000, $65,000, $80,000, $50,000 and $75,000
- Let’s assume $50K is an outlier, since the others are all close to each other.
- Based on these data points, a reasonable range for this role might be: $70-$80K
4. Aim high! Adjust your range slightly higher and ask for $75-$85K. This is the compensation range you will name when asked “When are your compensation requirements or expectations?”
5. Next step: Don’t apply a discount to yourself! In fact, we just worked out a range for the role, and then adjusted it slightly higher!
6. Now practice this. You’ll need to get comfortable asking for that compensation range. Say out loud, multiple times:
“Based on my research of the job market, my expectation is for a salary in the range of $75-$85,000.”
Talking about money (especially asking for it) can feel hard, so the practicing out loud step is really important.
- Don’t lower your voice when you say it and take the “ums” out of your speech. Only practicing out loud will help you do that.
7. The Last Step – Don’t Skip This! Tell them what your expectations are and then stop talking. Don’t apologize for asking for what you are worth and what the job market is paying. Simply stop talking!
Someone I know recently answered the compensation question before consulting me (can you imagine that?!). When asked about her compensation expectations during a phone screen, she said: “I believe $75-$80K would be reasonable for this role…But I know you’re a start-up and might not have the budget for that, so I could also do a lower salary, like $60K.”
Yikes! She just bargained herself down about $15,000 because she couldn’t stop talking. Please don’t do that to yourself! This is why it’s so important to do your research, state your expectations and then stop talking.
You Can Ask About Salary
If the question doesn’t come up during your interview and you’re curious what the compensation range is for a role, you can ask a question like “Can you share the compensation range for this position, so we can make sure that we’re aligned on our expectations?”
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Job fairs are a great addition to your job search toolkit. But the thought of all those employers in one big room and lots of other job seekers circulating around the room might be intimidating to some.
Never fear – I’m going to walk you through a foolproof guide to knock it out of the job fair ballpark. When you follow these steps, you’ll be prepared, confident and ready for success. Let’s get started!
First, find the right job fair. Many are free for job seekers or charge a small fee, so look carefully at any job fair that comes with a hefty admission price. Do your research – call the organizer and ask some questions before paying to attend a job fair as a job seeker. The right job fair will have employers there that you are interested in, or at least that you are open to learning more about.
Register in advance. This signifies a commitment on your part and will help ensure that you don’t back out!
Research the list of companies that are attending. Look them up and note the following things about each one:
- What the company does
- How big it is
- What types of jobs they list on their website that they’re hiring for now
- Which of their available jobs you are interested in and are a good fit for
- How the company describes their culture
- One interesting fact about the company that you can bring up in conversation with a recruiter
Apply to positions with those companies prior to the job fair.
Go to LinkedIn to search for a recruiter or Human Resources contact at the company. This is gold! Now send an InMail message or email to this recruiter to let her know you are a perfect fit for this job and will be at the job fair. Include your resume. Send it just a few days in advance of the job fair. Be brief – you want your note to be read, so after you write it, cut it in half and then send it!
Prioritize the employers attending the job fair in order of how interested you are in each one.
Practice your personal pitch. You should have a 20-second version of your pitch for a job fair that includes the following:
- A firm and friendly handshake while you look the recruiter in the eye, smile and introduce yourself
- A mention of your key skills and how they tie to the work this company does
- The specific job opening you saw on their website that you are interested in. We want it to be obvious that you did your homework before arriving
Your pitch should sound polished, but not like a recitation. Keep it conversational. Record yourself delivering it (I like the Voice Recorder & Audio Editor app for iPhone) so you can get good at it.
On game day, wear a suit. You are a job seeker, and job seekers need to look professional. Many other people there won’t be in suits and you will stand out for your professionalism. If your closet no longer holds suits, pull together the most professional outfit you can and go for it.
Bring copies of your resume. Print them out on regular white paper, no need to buy the fancy paper we used to print our resumes on in the old days! Put these in a padfolio or a nice folder along with some blank paper so you can take notes. Also bring business cards with your contact info if you have them. You can get these made at Staples or any other office supply store on really short notice and for very little money.
Arrive early: If you arrive close to the beginning of the job fair, you’ll wait in fewer lines and catch recruiters while they’re fresh. If the job fair starts at 8:30am, plan to arrive by 8:45am – let recruiters have their coffee and get set up before you arrive.
Look at the floor plan for the job fair and note where each company has their booth. Start with a company that is not one of your top priorities. You want to get practice giving your pitch and really hit your stride by the time you approach your most desired company. I also want you to avoid looking like a lost soul wandering around the room.
Enter the room like you own it! You are the reason job fairs exist, after all. Job fairs hope to attract qualified, professional candidates and that’s exactly what you are! So walk in with purpose and get started with the companies you want to meet. Here’s a sample pitch:
“Hi, my name is Elizabeth Smith. It’s nice to meet you. I’m a marketing manager with an expertise in digital marketing and I’m really interested in IBM because you set the standard in the tech field. I applied for a Digital Marketing Manager position online and would like to talk to you about it.” Then ask a smart question about it.
Before you leave the table, offer your resume and business card and ask for the recruiter’s card. Also, ask about the best way to follow up and if it’s OK for you to check in with them in a few days. (You’ll need to have the recruiters contact info to follow up.)
Need a break? Step into the lobby, find a comfy chair and write down some notes while you take a breather. Notes like this are helpful:
Met Cindy Smith at IBM. Hiring in digital marketing, but not in partner marketing. Call on Monday to follow up. Also have openings in Watson Health area.
Don’t rely on your memory when you get home, because if you visit multiple booths they’ll all start to blend together in your mind.
Within 24 hours, reach out to the people you met. Connect with them on LinkedIn with a personalized message or send an email – or both. Let them know that you enjoyed meeting them, remind them of your conversation or the position you applied for and express interest in meeting again soon. Don’t skip this step. Follow up is very important and very few job seekers do it. It will set you apart.
Good luck at the job fair!
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.
I’d like to address LinkedIn and how important it is in your job search from a slightly different angle and share some smart strategies for using LinkedIn as a job searcher that you can do today.
Remember, LinkedIn is your ticket to finding out who works where and who’s hiring. For a job seeker, this is important information.
Here are 3 things to try on LinkedIn today:
TIP #1: Look up your dream company using the feature that allows you to see “people who work at…”. Are you connected to anyone who works there? If yes, send them a message asking for a phone call. It can read something like this:
I hope you’re doing well. I’m considering my next career move and have always been really interested in XYZ Company because my background in project management seems like a great fit for the roles XYZ is currently hiring for. Would you have 15 minutes during the next week or two for a phone call so I could ask you a few questions about the company and hear about your experience there?
Thanks in advance!
If you aren’t connected to anyone there, look at the second-degree connections and pick out someone you know who has a connection at the company. This can be either someone in the department you’re interested in (preferably) or a recruiter. Send a message to your connection asking for an introduction.
Here’s a template you can use:
I see you’re connected to Jane Smith on LinkedIn and Jane works at XYZ where I’m really interested in getting a job. Would you be able to introduce Jane and me via email or LinkedIn? My email address is xxx. Thanks for your help!
Did you try it? It’s pretty easy, right? Now try it a few more times – your goal is to expand your network and this will take work every day. Once you get an introduction or schedule a phone call, be ready with great questions, your elevator pitch, and an offer of “what can I do for you?”
Tip #2: For our next trick, message someone you haven’t spoken to in a long time to keep the connection fresh. Just a very brief “hello” is all we’re after here. Here’s an example:
It’s been a while, but I’ve enjoyed following your success on LinkedIn and hope things are going well for you at XYZ Company. I’m working on my return to work after taking a career break and I’m really excited about the possibilities!
Why do this? Because you never know who Bill knows or what kind of help he may be able to provide. If nothing else, you’ve done what people always say they plan to do (keep in touch with their network) but never seem to get around to actually doing – so good for you! Your contacts will recognize that this is smart networking and give you credit for it. Plus, if you need to reach out to Bill with a specific request in the near future, it won’t be so awkward because you’ve checked in with him recently.
Tip #3: Ask for recommendations! Having multiple recommendations is a great way to fill out your profile and asking for them is easy. Use the “Ask for recommendations” feature on LinkedIn. Or you can send your request via email. Allow me to get you started:
Hi Sally, I’m planning my next career move and filling out my LinkedIn profile as part of the process. Would you write a brief recommendation for me? I was hoping you could reference our work together as project managers/my technical skills/the great teamwork we had while working together at X Company. I’d be happy to do the same for you so please let me know if that would be helpful. Thank you!
A few things to keep in mind about your request:
- Be specific about what you’d like people to comment on. This helps them write something quickly and gets you just what you want on your LinkedIn profile.
- Offer to reciprocate.
- Keep your request brief!
- Don’t shy away from asking people for recommendations even if it’s been many years since you worked together. They’ll remember you and the work you did.
Try these out today. Why today? Because doing this now while it’s fresh in your mind is your best bet for getting it done. Also, because these are things you need to do on a regular basis and you’ll get more comfortable as you do them more often. Start today and then do them again tomorrow.
Remember, your job as a job seeker is to expand your network. If you’re returning to work after a career break you’re going to have to tap into your network to find your next opportunity and LinkedIn is a great way to do this.
When not offering tips on making LinkedIn the focus of your job search…well, actually, because LinkedIn IS that important, Katie can always be found offering LinkedIn assistance to her UNC MBA Candidates and women like her who are returning to the workforce. For more information and tips, check out www.backtobusinessconference.com.
Interviewing for jobs can be nerve-wracking! In my role as a Career Coach at a top-20 business school, I hear from multiple recruiters each year about the things candidates did well (and not so well) during job interviews. Here are three things we hear from recruiters that might help you avoid making some common interview mistakes and get the offer:
#1 Bring Your Energy! Maybe candidates are trying so hard to be “professional” that they forget to let their enthusiasm for the company or the position shine through. Or maybe nerves get the best of some interviewees and they just can’t relax enough to show their excitement. Whatever the reason, your interviewers are investing their time and resources bringing you in for an interview and they want to see that you’re excited to be there.
Here are some ways you can show your energy:
- Clearly articulate how happy you are to be interviewing for the position.
- Smile! It sounds basic, but in a pressure situation you might forget this most basic way of connecting with other people.
- Pay attention to your body language – sit up straight, talk with your hands, speak clearly and at an appropriate volume.
#2 Be prepared to talk about why you’re interested in this company. You’ll need to do your research to answer this question well. This is your chance to show that you’re the kind of person who does their homework and comes prepared. It’s also a chance to compliment what you admire about the company and demonstrate that you’re self-aware enough to know why you’d be a good fit for them.
Here’s how you can show your interest:
- Have 3 reasons why you love this company in mind when you walk into your interview.
- Come prepared to talk about how your strengths match up to what the position requires.
- Answer this question in terms of what you can do for them, not what they can do for you.
#3 Ask insightful questions at the end of the interview. A recruiter once told us that she interviewed a candidate whose questions for her hit on the three things that kept her up at night. This candidate had so thoroughly researched the company and the position he was interviewing for that he was able to zero in on the business issues that they were grappling with and ask thoughtful questions about them. He got the job!
Here’s how you can ask insightful questions:
- Know who the competition is, what the trends are in the industry and what, if any, threats exist to the way they currently do business. Use this information to formulate questions that show that you did your homework.
- Research online by reading industry blogs and the company’s website and Linkedin page. Supplement this knowledge by talking to people you know who work at the company to get the inside scoop.
- Be sure to mention during your interview that you spoke with people who work at the company as part of your preparation. This shows you went the extra mile to understand their business.
The keys to interviewing well are preparation and practice. Be sure to bring your energy, do your research so you know why you’re a good fit for the company and ask smart questions of your interviewers. Get a list of common interview questions and record yourself giving answers so you can hear how you sound. Enlist a friend to give you a mock interview and some honest feedback.
Then get out there and show ‘em what you’re made of!
When Katie’s not working to place MBA candidates, she’s writing articles, conducting workshops and MeetUps, and preparing courses to help women like her transition back into the workforce. Find out what’s going on at www.backtobusinessconference.com.