Demystifying the Informational Interview

As a job seeker, you’re often responding to a lot of questions. “What was your last position?” “Where do you see yourself in five years?” And the dreaded, “Why should I hire you?”

But there’s one tool you have as a job seeker that turns this structure on its head: the informational interview. Though it may look like a traditional job interview, the informational interview is fundamentally different because it puts you, the job seeker, in the power seat.

But informational interviews can seem confusing and even intimidating! It’s no wonder that this incredible tool is so underutilized. Simply put, an informational interview is a way to learn more about a position, company or industry that interests you from someone who has experience. To demystify this process, we convened three professionals from UCSF, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley to share their experiences of informational interviews, from the perspective of the interviewee.

Here are some of their tips:

Requesting an Informational Interview
  • In the initial email or phone call, be clear about why you are reaching out to this person and how you found them. If you found this person through a mutual connection, mention this person’s name (if you have their permission).
  • Make it clear why you want to talk to them and how they can help you.
  • Ask for 30 minutes of their time and offer to come to them. Some interviewees prefer to meet over coffee or lunch but others insist on meetings at their office – let them choose the place and remember to confirm your meeting the day before.
Preparing for an Informational Interview
  • Go in with a game plan. Answer the question, “What do I hope to get out of this interview?”
  • Do your research on the person you’re interviewing, their company and their industry. This helps you establish a rapport and demonstrate your interest, and will also allow you to dive right in to your targeted questions during the interview.
  • Prepare 5-10 specific questions ahead of time.
During an Informational Interview
  • Ask an open-ended question to start off, like “How did you get involved?” Let them tell you their successes; people like talking about themselves.
  • Make it conversational! Ask follow up questions and paraphrase what the other person has said.
  • Wear a watch so you can monitor the time. If you’ve asked for 30 minutes, make sure you stick to it.
  • Close the interview with a question about next steps, like “Any ideas on what else can I investigate?” or “Who should I connect with to go further?”
After an Informational Interview
  • Send a thank you note. If you hand write a thank you note, make sure you email a thank you as well within 24 hours of the interview. In the thank you, refer to specific details from the meeting, such as something you learned, how they were helpful to you or what steps you will take to follow up.
  • If you have laid out steps in the interview, be sure to follow through with the person you interviewed.

I challenge you to use these tips in the New Year to conduct your own informational interview! Here’s to a happy and healthy 2016!

The Quest for the Good Enough Resume

I have seen many job seekers lose their way when it comes to resumes. Their determined efforts to craft compelling content get swallowed up by the quest for perfection, a dubious goal for such a subjective process.

While everyone will have an opinion on your resume, there are (thankfully) widely agreed upon best practices that can release you from the shackles of resume perfection, and get you on to your next job.

Begin by understanding and applying these resume guidelines:

  • Resume precision (different from perfection) comes by targeting the employer’s need. Find clues in the job posting. Identify 3-5 key requirements that you strongly match. Point all your content towards this bullseye.
  • By highlighting accomplishments that are anchored in quantifiable results you will present yourself as an asset to their company – not just someone looking for a job.
  • In a fast moving world, your resume must be built for speed and economy. Use your words mindfully and make your case quickly with short, punchy sentences. Exclude all that lies outside your target.
  • Complete your efforts for relevance by researching resumes in your industry to uncover industry-specific formatting or jargon to punctuate your targeting. An excellent tactic is to attend a local industry association where members often perform resume reviews. Receiving feedback from a colleague in your industry will serve as the finishing polish for your document.

I’ve seen that when job seekers commit to these practices, their resume efforts benefit in the short term with improved read-ability and impact. In the long term, they’re able to rapidly turn out effective resumes when timing is critical.

The final suggestion is more on the intuitive side. Know when you have done enough. Your resume is simply one of the tools that will aid you in your search. Trusting that you have followed these key principles will give you the confidence to get out and meet the people who are looking for candidates like you. When you meet them, you’ll have a first-rate resume to offer.

How do you know when you have done “enough?” Is there a principle that you always follow with your resumes? Share your expertise in the comments below.

7 Job Search MythBusters Revealed

Mythbuster #1: I don’t need social media. That’s just for fun – cat videos and kid photos.

Get online and show what you know. Update your LinkedIn profile and go further by publishing an article. Follow your target companies on Twitter and learn what’s important to them.

Mythbuster #2: There’s no point in talking to people unless they have an opening.

Get in ahead of an opening by requesting an informational interview – one of the most underutilized tools in a job seeker’s tool box. Talk to a variety of people (not just hiring managers.)

Mythbuster #3: The best way to use my time is applying for jobs.

Vary your day with a healthy mix of informational interviews, research, applying for jobs and practicing skills that build your competitive edge. Get started with JVS’s Job Search Planning workshop.

Mythbuster #4: Cover letters are dead.

It depends. Some companies are more focused on qualifications. Others want to screen their candidates for writing ability and true interest in their company – not just any company!

Mythbuster #5: If I tell people my experience and background, they’ll know where I would best fit.

Your life story can be overwhelming to someone who is trying to help you. Give the focused version that is tailored to a company’s interests and needs.

Mythbuster #6: I don’t need to target an industry. I just need to focus on the job title I want.

Focus on an industry to become an expert in your field. It’s efficient and effective.

Mythbuster #7: No one’s hiring people over age 55 in the Bay Area.

Without doubt, job hunting gets harder as you get older. That said, 20% of our successful job seekers last year were over 55. Demonstrate your value to an employer and get hired!

Career-Building/Re-Building from the Entry Level

The job market is booming again, with 257,000 jobs added to the U.S economy in January 2015. And it’s not all millennials getting hired—in fact, unemployment among adults age 45-55 dropped from 5% to 4.1% in January. Studies show that baby boomers now hold an average of 10 or 11 new jobs by the time they reach age 46.

Many people are launching careers or starting over in new fields—which can mean starting from an entry-level position.

Your entry-level job can be the beginning of your next big thing:

  • Experience on the Resume: Don’t think of this as a step back—make this your new beginning. Approach this as an opportunity to reinvent yourself and rebuild your professional brand.
  • Networking: Get a sense of what opportunities are available while on the job and see what your colleagues in higher positions are doing. The people deciding your next promotion are not too far away, so figure out their workplace challenges and take an interest in how they solve them.
  • Demonstrate Leadership Skills in Any Role: Take initiative and show you are dependable. The first step is knocking your current responsibilities out of the park.
  • Do it the Right Way: It takes more than just showing up to get ahead. Putting in more effort than the bare minimum is a good way to get yourself noticed. Take for example Anna Prior, a Wall Street Journal columnist who started as a newsroom assistant six years ago.

Strategic volunteering and reading blogs and industry news to supplement your on-the-job experience will also show your boss that you have the ability and desire to move up, so (re) start strong!

Have you launched a career by maximizing the potential of an entry-level job? Tell us about it in the comments!

Is Job-hunting like Dating?

You’ve had the experience of dating in your life, right? Did you enjoy it: the mystery of getting to know a stranger, the thrill of the chase, the risk of rejection, or the challenge of making the right decisions?

Dating is fun for some; job-hunting, not so much. It seems possible that job-hunting could be fun – but that’s not how most of us experience it. We’re too often scared about money, worried about what others will think about us, and anxious about an uncertain future, to engage in opportunity thinking and enjoy serendipitous moments.

I’ll go out on a limb here and say that dating for most of us is a means to an end: finding a good relationship. Likewise, nobody really wants to be job-hunting – what we want is to find that paid job that uses our skills and talents.

As my colleagues and I teach job-search skills at JVS, we’re well aware that we’re encouraging people to get good at something they never wanted to do in the first place, and that they hope to stop doing as soon as possible. It’s an odd proposition, teaching people how to job-search: here, get good at doing this so that you can be rewarded by not having to do it anymore!

I asked my JVS colleagues what useful parallels they see between job-hunting and dating, and here are some of their thoughts:

“To find your match, be clear what you’re looking for. The more focused your search is, the more likely you’ll find the best match for you.”

“It’s about rejection, rejection, rejection — and how you handle it. Also, if you can manage your expectations appropriately, it will go a lot better.”

“Job hunting, like dating, is basically a conversation between two people: Do you like me? Do I like you? Do we want to take a chance on going steady?”

“Both activities have the same goal: to make them want more of you.”

“Dating and job-hunting – to do either one well, you’ve got to feel confident and show that you have something to offer. Also, the worst thing you can do is to appear desperate!”

Thanks, colleagues. I imagine we’ll keep thinking up new comparisons – it’s just what you do when your job involves helping job-seekers all day long. In the meantime, this Valentine’s Day, give a rose or a hug to someone who’s dating, or someone who’s job-hunting, or both. It can be a challenging world out there for a seeker…

What’s Your Pitch?

Quick – you’re asked to speak for 30 seconds on what you do. The listener is a stranger, and the meeting could lead to a serendipitous outcome – perhaps an important new connection, assignment or chance to learn. Are you ready? Can you clearly and concisely talk about what’s important to you, and what you’re looking for?

When I work with job seekers in JVS Job Search Strategy workshops, we often discuss the many versions of “the pitch,” such as in a job interview or an imaginary elevator. My favorite scenario for practice is a meeting with a random stranger. How do you talk about yourself and what you do when you meet someone at a party, or in line at the grocery store? Can you speak about what you do in a way that encourages another person to become interested?

I grew up near Hollywood, where “the pitch” is a way of life. This is a crucial skill for job seekers, of course, but what if you’re not looking? Maybe you’re in school, you’re retired, you’re working…Do you need to practice your pitch?

The networker in me says, yes. Yes, we all do. Because being able to talk about what we do – whatever that is – in a way that’s clear, concise and interesting, can lead to great connections and opportunities. It’s not just job hunters who need to have a great network, right? Ideally, we should be able to rely on our network of contacts to get advice, to explore new areas, to do research, and to discover what it is we don’t know that we don’t know. And, in a world where every job is in some sense temporary, even the well-employed among us should be positioned for the next job hunt.

Want to have a great year in 2015? Try this: create a 30-second “pitch” for yourself and what you do – something that you enjoy saying and others enjoy hearing. Practice it in front of a mirror every day. Say it to a stranger whenever you can, and tweak it if you’re not getting positive reactions. Does your “pitch” need to be shorter? Longer? Start differently? End with a request for assistance?

Umm…one suggestion: don’t overdo it. Your “pitch” should be energetic, but not over the top (see video below). As Oscar Wilde said, “be yourself – everyone else is already taken.”

The Elevator Pitch from Simon Ryninks on Vimeo.