Asking for an Informational Interview

You’ve read that networking is critical to your career and job search success and that information interviews are a valuable way to build your network.  So take a deep breath and commit to starting the process.  It is not as scary as you may think.

  1.  Identify and prioritize companies on your target list.  Be sure to identify companies of different sizes in your target industries.
  2. Identify contacts in each of those companies using LinkedIn, your alumni networks, etc.
  3. Reach out to introduce yourself either by phone or email.  If you are an alum of the same school mention that.  If you share a common friend or connection, refer to that.  If you are a student, let them know.  Express your strong interest in learning about their career and their current role with the company.  Ask for 20 – 30 minutes for an informational interview.
  4. Wait three days, if there is no response, reach out again.  If still no response, give it one more try a week later.  If you reach out three times with no response, stop pursuing this contact and more to another.
  5. Agree on a date, time and location for your meeting or telephone call.
  6. Do you research in advance so you have background on the company and the individual.  Prepare questions in advance.
  7. During the meeting take notes.  It demonstrates interest and provides valuable reference material for your search.
  8. Be sure ask the contact who else they think you should talk to in order to learn more about your areas of interest in the company.
  9. Always say thank you at the end of the meeting and send a handwritten thank you note within 24 hours.
  10. Keep the person updated on your progress.  If you have a successful meeting with someone the recommended, say thank you again.

You will learn a great deal about your target companies, how they hire, what competencies they value and what work is like in the functional area of interest to you.  Later when  you see a position posted at one of the target companies, ask your contact to forward your resume and cover letter to the hiring manager.  While this does not replace the need to apply online, it greatly increases the likelihood that someone will look at your resume.  Informational interviews are a great investment in your career so get started today.

Questions Not to Ask in an Interview

During the process of interviewing for a new job, it is critical that you ask questions during the process to demonstrate your interest and engagement.  However, there are certain questions that should NOT be asked in an interview.

  • What is the salary?  It is critical that you sell the hiring manager and team on the value you bring to the position.  Asking about salary early in the process can negatively impact your advancement in the process.  Focus on earning their interest first.  They will bring up salary at an appropriate time during the process.
  • What are the benefits?  For the same reasons as with the salary question, don’t get ahead of yourself.  You need to sell yourself for the position before you worry about benefits.
  • When will I be promoted?  Once you have successfully sold the value you could bring to the position you may want to ask what the manager would consider success in that role after the first year.  You may ask about possible career progression.  Do not specifically ask about being promoted.  It comes across as arrogant to assume that you will be promoted.  Promotions are based on merit but may also be dependent on business needs and budgets.
  • Can I work from home?  Can I work flexible hours?  Unless the job states that it is a virtual position or flexible hours, assume that it is in the office during regular business hours.  In many companies you have to prove yourself before you can be considered for working from home or with flexible hours.  Get the job first and show them what you can do.
  • What does your Company do?  This question or any other question that could be answered by a five minute review of their website clearly demonstrates that you were not interested enough to do even a basic amount of preparation.  If you are not taking the opportunity seriously, why should they seriously consider you.  Any question that shows you didn’t prepare or that you weren’t listening is not going to land you the job.

Use the interview to demonstrate your transferrable skills, the value you bring to the position and your passion for the opportunity.  Sell yourself first before you worry about salary, benefits and flexibility.  This will help you increase your success on interviews.

 

Advancing Your Career

What is a successful professional to do if they are very good at their current job but aspire to climb the ladder and to take on new challenges?

Honest Assessment of Skills and Gaps  – Before any next step in your career it is critical to do a very honest assessment of your skill set and your gaps.  What are the critical skills for success in the position you aspire to?  Which of those skills are particular strengths?  Which areas require more work?  Are there major gaps where you might need additional training and/or experience?  Look at performance reviews, ask trusted colleagues for feedback, ask your mentor and your friends for input.  Gather comprehensive data on your strengths and areas for develop.  Define a specific plan on how you will address the gaps in the year ahead.  When opportunity knocks you want to be sure you are ready.

Have a Mentor – Everyone needs a mentor or a personal board of directors to help them navigate their career.  This should be someone more senior than you are in position and often age as well.  Learn from their experience and perspective.  Ask them for honest and actionable feedback.  Use them as a sounding board as you build you skills assessment and as you navigate the journey to your next career move.

Train  and Develop Your Replacement – The organization currently values your contributions in your current job very highly.  That’s great but you don’t want that to stand in your way of future advancement.  Often people get so focused on how to get experience and visibility to lead to that next job that they forget to worry about who will do their current job.  Identify a rising star on your team and start training them on how to be successful in what you are currently doing.  Provide projects which offer learning experience as well as visibility.  Nurture this person along and make sure your boss knows you are working to train this person to someday do your job.  Some people worry this will show the boss they are not needed but in fact it can be a shrewd move.  Many managers are hesitant to take you out of a job you are doing well for fear of what will fall apart.  Help them start looking for your next opportunity because you have your current responsibilities covered.

Open and Honest Conversations – Have open and honest conversations with your manager about your longer term goals.  Ask for input on what you need to develop to be qualified for the next step.  Ask for special projects or assignments that would add experience and increase your visibility as someone who can do more than the current job.  You have to be patient and respectful.  This isn’t about demanding anything it is asking for help throughout the journey.  Sometimes it is a position you aspire to that your manager might have never considered but after talking about it they keep visualizing the possibility.  Engage them in helping you advance your career.

Define and Implement a Plan – Define and document  a specific plan of how you plan to achieve this goal.  Having a goal is not enough.   If you don’t know where you are going, you’re going to have a tough time getting there.  Identify target companies and/or target positions.  Commit to networking activity levels.  Define specific activities and timeframes and hold yourself accountable.  A great goal that sits on the shelf has little possibility of success.  Define you plan and execute it well, keeping track of your accomplishments and milestones.  Whether your next step is in your current organization or in a new company, you have to develop and implement a plan to increase the likelihood that you will achieve it.

Network, network, network.  It is extremely difficult to land a job sitting behind your computer submitting online applications.  It really is all about who you know and who they know.  It is the single most important and effective step you can take in your job search.  The majority of jobs are filled through networking in this economy.   Talk to people you know.  Let them know what you are interested in and see who they know.  Use your networking conversations to learn about companies and different roles.  Learn how to get in the door and how to be successful once you get there.  Networking is not about asking for a job but it can certainly lead to one.  Build a professional network to support your search.  Focus on people at companies on your target list and in roles of interest to you.  Leverage your alumni database, Linked In and former colleagues.  Even when you are seeking a more challenging role in your current company, talk to people in the new area, talk to people who interact with that group.  Learn as much as you can about what is required for success in that role.  Understand how that role interacts with the rest of the organization.  The more you know the more effective you can be in the process.  Also the more people who know you are interested, the more likely you are to be considered for an appropriate opportunity.

Be realistic – You may have a dream job in mind but realistically assess whether that is a possible next step from your current position.  Often there is a step or two between your current role and your ultimate desired position.  Learn enough about your dream job to identify critical next steps as part of your preparation.  Do they value someone who has worked in more than one division or functional area?  Is a foreign assignment critical to reaching executive levels?  Understanding what they will be looking for in the senior position can help you be more strategic in determining your next step or two.  Keep the end goal in mind, gather intelligence from your network and effectively execute your plan.  This significantly increases your likelihood of success.

Demonstrate Success – Don’t wait until you have the job to demonstrate your capabilities to management.  Volunteer to take on a critical project or cross functional taskforce assignment to demonstrate your abilities and skills.  It is so much more effective to show someone what you are capable of doing instead of just talking about it.

Keep Learning – Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you already know everything you need to know.  Stay abreast of trends in your industry.  Hone your technical skills.  Attend conferences or professional association events to stay abreast of new developments.  Take available internal training.  Demonstrate your commitment to learning and growing.

 

Dress for Success

While it is important to prepare for your interview by researching the company, preparing your answers and identifying the questions you will ask the hiring managers, it is also important to plan your attire.  You want to send a message from the moment they first see you that you are a capable, confident professional.  First impressions to matter and employers form those impressions in the first few seconds.

Here are some tips to help you dress for success in your interview:

  • Suit – It is important to present yourself as the successful business person you aspire to be.  Always wear a suit to demonstrate your professionalism.  For the ladies, either a skirt or pants are acceptable with a matching jacket.  If you choose to wear a skirt, it should not be too short or too tight.  Everything you wear should be clean, well pressed and should fit appropriately.  Suit should be black, navy or gray.
  • Shirt or Blouse – Men should have a well-pressed shirt.  You can’t go wrong with a white shirt but light blue is also an option.  All the buttons should be buttoned and the shirt should be tucked in.  Ladies should wear a well-pressed blouse or shell with their suits.  Avoid low cut necklines or bulging buttons.  There should definitely be no  tummy showing between the shirt and the waistband.
  • Hose –For men, socks should match the trousers of the suit and should be high enough that bare leg doesn’t show if you cross your legs.  For ladies, a neutral hose is appropriate.  You should avoid bare legs, colorful hose, or patterned hose
  • Shoes – Interviewers notice shoes.  Be sure your shoes are clean and polished.  Ladies should wear shoes with low to medium heel but, not high heels.  Sandals or sneakers are never appropriate.
  • Minimal Jewelry – For both men and women jewelry should be minimal, tasteful and not distracting.  A ring and a watch are appropriate for both men and women and women should wear small earrings.  .  Avoid bracelets that clang.
  • Pay attention to your hands – You will be shaking hands at your interviews so be sure your hands are clean with  well-trimmed nails.  Ladies, avoid flashy nail polish, neutral or subtle shades are appropriate.
  • Accessories – Be sure to bring a padfolio so you have a place to take notes and to store additional copies of your resume. .
  • Go light on fragrance – don’t over power the interviewer with heavy fragrance.

You want everything about your appearance to support your professional qualifications for the job.  Do not wear anything that could distract from the image.  You want to be remembered for the capabilities you bring to the job, not for something you wore.

Jump Start Your Job Search with these Spring Cleaning Tips

Learn more about jump starting your job search! Appearing in Career Attraction, this piece will show you spring cleaning tips for your search! Please read the full blog Jump Start Your Job Search with These Spring Cleaning Tips.

Staying Relevant in Your Current Job

To succeed in your current job and to prepare yourself for future opportunities it is critical to make networking and learning part of your normal routine. This will keep you relevant in your current position as you prepare for future opportunities.   With a little practice and discipline it is entirely possible.  Don’t get so busy doing your job that you forget to invest in yourself and your future.

Networking

Even while you are successfully employed, networking it critical to your professional development and learning.  Maintain the network you have and continue to build your professional network.  Successful networking does not require large blocks of time, a few strategic minutes here and there makes a difference.

  • Network within the company – learn what other departments do and how that influences your work, learn what skills enable people to advance in their careers, be interested and interesting, meet someone for coffee or schedule a lunch.  Set goals to keep yourself focused on networking
  • Leverage Linked In – keep your profile up to date, seek recommendations, post updates, review your skills list, use Linked In to find former managers to stay in touch for future references, find former colleagues and reconnect, identify alumni connections in key companies of interest, keep expanding your network
  • Networking beyond your current employer – participate in relevant professional association meetings and conferences, learn best practices from others, build your network in companies of interest, identify people you can learn from
  • Mentor – identify a professional mentor, gain insight from someone who will tell you the truth and help you learn and grow in your career.  Consider mentoring someone junior in your field.
  • Give Back – host informational interviews with people more junior in their careers who wish to learn from your experience, you may learn something too while you are helping them
  • Set goals and hold yourself accountable so networking doesn’t fall to the bottom of your growing to do list

Professional Development

You need to be continuously learning to grow professionally.  Be creative in identifying different ways to accomplish that.

  • Internal Training – identify relevant internal training sessions, build your technical skills, managerial skills, learn something new, work with your manager to identify relevant training and make it a priority
  • Professional Organizations – identify at least one relevant professional organization, attend meetings, meet other members, volunteer to work on a committee, get involved, your learn something from those you work with in these groups
  • Professional Conferences – if budget allows, take advantage of these opportunities, learn from the sessions but also from other attendees,  if budget doesn’t allow, review the presentations online after the conference, follow up with relevant presenters
  • Take on New Projects – volunteer to work on a project or with a team that forces you outside your comfort zone, force yourself to learn something new, let your manager know the type of skills you seek to hone and look to identify a project assignment which is relevant, consider a cross functional project to expose you to other parts of the organization
  • Read – stay current on relevant industry and business periodicals, read while waiting for meetings or while commuting if you take public transportation, always have something relevant to read in case you have unexpected downtown, make it a habit to review the key publications on a regular basis, be well-informed

 

Investing a few minutes each week in your own networking and development will increase your satisfaction with your current position and will keep you relevant and growing for future opportunities.

Tips for Being an Effective Reference

It is typical in the job search for the hiring organization to request references and we’ve discussed previously how to prepare your references to be most helpful in your search.  What if the situation is reversed and you receive a call from an employer seeking a reference on a former colleague or employee?

Be aware of your company policy:  In many companies the correct response is to direct the caller to the HR department to verify dates of employment.  Since this is not helpful for most hiring managers, you can adhere to the policy or offer to speak off the record.  Only consider speaking informally to the hiring manager if you have good things to say about the candidate.

Be prepared:  Hopefully the candidate requested permission to list you as a reference in advance and verified your contact information.  This is perfect opportunity to learn more about the position they have applied to and the skills critical for success.

In the moment:  If you receive a call unexpectedly asking for a reference on someone you haven’t heard from in years, it is reasonable to ask for a moment to collect your thoughts.  You may want to refer this caller to HR.  If you worked closely with the person several years ago you can discuss that experience but you are in no position to be truly helpful since you don’t know anything about the job they have applied for or the skills necessary for success.

“If you can’t say something nice…” – Remember when Mom advised you that “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”?  It is important to be truthful but stick to the questions you are asked.  Don’t volunteer negative information.  Answer what is asked without going into extensive detail.  If the individual was terminated or had significant performance issues, it is best to refer the call to HR.

Be professional – Be sure to wish the hiring manager the best of luck with the process.  Be careful to explain in what capacity you worked with this person and at what organization.  Be polite.  If you receive a voicemail, all back promptly.  Hiring managers are anxious to get through the steps to bring someone on board so a quick response is greatly appreciated.

If the candidate did their best through the interview process, you are acting as validation to the hiring managers impressions.