- Groundwork -
informational interviews, aka "random reach outs"
by fergus mellon
Informational Interviews sound scary and in some ways are mislabeled as they are not job interviews but instead are really just ways of getting more information on an industry, company, or functional area. Think of them instead as a "Random Reach Out". They can be exceptionally useful in helping you land a job as they may uncover opportunities you were unaware of.
At an early stage in my career I did not think twice about contacting companies that I was interested in and this is all you have to do! The easiest way of getting started is to contact someone with whom you have some type of relationship. It might be a friend's parent, an alumni who has said they are open to helping graduates of their former University, a friend or neighbor of your parents, someone who gave a guest lecture at College or even someone you saw in the news or read about in an industry publication. Do not feel shy about contacting anyone, just make sure you have a strong introductory email or letter so that you grab their attention.
The one piece to keep in mind is that while the person you are contacting is the most important person to you, for them even, if they are very generous in terms of the time they will spend with you, you are very low on their priority list. They are unlikely to respond to your first attempt at contacting them. This does not mean the person you are contacting does not want to speak to you, but instead can just mean that they are very busy.
Don’t be put off.
If your first well thought out email is unanswered, have it in your mind that you are likely to have to attempt contact up to 5 times (try to mix 3 emails and 2 phone calls) before giving up. If, after 5 attempts you get nowhere then call it a day and move on.
Once you get the chance to have an Informational Interview keep to the following 5 Steps
1) Prepare an informal agenda. Set out ahead of time what you want to achieve. At a minimum it should be:
If you find yourself cutting off the person you are meeting with, note it and then do your best to stop it! If you find that in your first one or two informational interviews that you have cut the person off, don't dwell on it as most people you meet will be forgiving of Early Stage Professionals (everyone knows what it's like to be starting off!). Instead learn from the experience and modify your behavior for future meetings. You will eventually find the right balance between talking and listening.
3) Get Next Steps. Even if there are no tangible next steps at the company whose representative you have met, that is ok. Instead ask the person you have met with if there is anyone in their network they can introduce you to.
This will ensure that you are casting your (job) net widely by getting access to their contacts. Don't be worried if they do not have someone who springs to mind. Instead in your thank you email to them (you should send a thank you email BTW!) respectfully ask that in the event they think of someone who can help you that they make an introduction.
4) Be Thankful. First make sure you thank the person for their time and ask them to keep you in mind both at their company and within their own network. Also, follow-up with a thank you card or email. It is pretty much expected so do it!
5) Keep in Contact. Even if there is no tangible outcome (i.e. no job or referral within your contact's network), keep in contact. This does not mean that you need to send a weekly email; remember you don’t want to be a stalker! Instead if you read an interesting article that is relevant to your conversation send it on and then provide an update on your career search (who you met, any successes, jobs you are applying to). If progress is slow in your search, there is no harm in asking for any ideas in terms of other people to meet, especially if you did not get these from your first meeting.
And..... when you get your job don't just give up on keeping in contact with the people you have met. The former "Random Reach Outs" are now part of your new network and you will want to build (or at least maintain) the relationship you have. This doesn't mean you need to contact them every week or even month, but do have a goal of trying to get a coffee with them once every six months. I find with some contacts that even if I try for a meeting twice a year, typically due to their busy schedule, a coffee or after work drink will likely be cancelled or moved so could even slip to just once a year. If once a year, don't panic. That is just fine!
Finally, just go for it in terms of "Random Reach Outs". There really is nothing to lose and everything to gain from them. I received internships at Jaguar Cars, Saatchi & Saatchi and a major UK car magazine called "What Car?" all through initiating contact at companies I was interested in and being open and persistent in getting contacts there. In every case I did not have a personal contact to rely on, but instead relied on the goodness of others and it worked!
Next Section: Taking a Shortcut: Using Your Network or skip to Job Interview
Visiting these pages because you've been to a number of interviews and not yet got a job? Don't worry. Or if you're worrying know that it's common for a job search to take months and not days. Here are some related columns on keeping motivated and dealing with the stress of it all:
Keeping Positive During Your Job Search
Dealing With Rejection and Feedback
Overwhelmed? Try a Mental Refresh