The Importance of Informational Interviews

Without fail, I recommend informational interviews to everyone. I get several reactions, push back, mystification, and just plain disbelief of the value. There’s lots of way to overcome these initial concerns, plus understand the immeasurable value of the informational interview. It’s time to forget the discomfort or embarrassment of thinking you are bothering someone when you ask for an informational interview.  People like to help and you are potentially helping them as well.

It’s the new year. Create a career plan, and include informational conversations as an integral component. I’m going to give you substantial ammunition that will blow your concerns out of the water.

DEFINITION OF AN INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEW

Informational interviews serve a multitude of purposes; to determine an educational direction, to help define a career path, or to help build a network for career connections. THEY ARE NOT TO ASK FOR A JOB. The person you are meeting with may feel tricked if you go down this path. Just like the name implies, these types of interviews are for gathering information, networking, and are the best precursor to formal interviews for an actual open position.

WHO SHOULD DO INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWS

The best time to start informational interviews is in high school. With access to information about companies, professions, and talented people on the internet, even if you don’t have established networks, you can build them. Plus, learning about skills and job options, before investing in an expensive education could save you lots of time and money.

OK, so you missed that opportunity, but it’s not too late. I’ve taught groups of women entrepreneurs who come from other countries or didn’t attend US universities how to build networks in their communities, or through LinkedIn, or online resources including search engines like Google.

Or what if you’ve decided you need a change, or are in a dead end role? If you brainstorm with a professional you may even discover new applications for existing skills. Maybe, through the discussion, you find that retraining or an advanced degree could shift your career trajectory.

Informational interviews are about building a network, keeping abreast of market developments, and staying fresh.

HOW INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWS CAN HELP

Check out my examples below, do you see yourself in any of these scenarios? If your answer is yes, then I’d say an informational interview would be a great step for you before you apply for specific open positions.

My oldest son finished up his Peace Corps service in Panama, and transitioning back into the US job market was a daunting challenge. He didn’t enjoy informational interviews when he first graduated from college, but after I sent him this Forbes article, http://onforb.es/IFInBe, “How to Land and Ace an Informational Interview,” he seemed to have a change of heart. Recently, he was recruited away from his first position (back in the US), to a role where he’s using his bilingual skills and leveraging his experience to help the elderly.

My daughter embraced the idea of informational interviews and used them to network in NYC as she looked to relocate and think about the next steps in her career. She leveraged Linkedin profiles and companies websites to do her homework. She also made sure her resume and profile were in good shape before connecting with professionals. She’s now living and working in Brooklyn on a research project with the option to earn her advanced degree.

These are two examples of different reasons to do informational interviews, one for re-entry into a market, and another to relocate geographically.

OTHER REASONS TO DO INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWS

  • Determining the best academic route to be qualified for a specific career
  • Identifying career options or alternative roles for specific skills or previous training
  • Gaining better insights into career pathways and choices of established professionals
  • Learning about companies-not only what they do, but what kinds of professionals they value and may need in the future for their organization
  • Finding the right organization and team (corporate culture) that fit your personal style

PREPARE FOR INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWS

It’s important to keep your goals in mind as you prepare for informational interviews. The initial focus is to learn more about the person and their organization. So do your homework, read about the professional plus their company, and always prepare good questions.

Eventually the conversation will focus on you. Be prepared to share your “Pitch” or “30 Second Elevator Speech” with the interviewer.  Even if you don’t know exactly what you want to do, you can share what your skills/talents are, and how you have used them in the past. This will help the professional think of ideas to help you for your next step.

Send a follow up thank you note. Don’t let it be generic. It’s another opportunity for contact, so make sure you add a piece of information or mention a specific topic that was discussed and how it was helpful.

WIN-WIN

Through these conversations, your connection can learn about the marketplace from you. You can learn about the company’s successes and challenges. Plus you both know different people and are able to expand each other’s networks. Just like a successful date, the meeting is about finding common interests and exploring if there’s any chemistry. That connection can pay off in several ways; a referral to another interesting person, a future opportunity, or even an idea about something you never imagined.

Most strategic hires are based on an introduction or conversation that was not planned. Do your research, identify interesting professionals, and start reaching out to them now to start a conversation for the New Year!

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IS YOUR CAREER TOOLBOX CURRENT?

 

Today, I interviewed a medical doctor working as a researcher and in the final year of writing her dissertation in Public Health. Yes, she may be an over-achiever, but I’m seeing more and more medical professionals obtaining dual degrees in Public Health; it keeps their options open. My interest in this person isn’t in what she studied, but more in what she was planning to do with her academic and professional experience. She had an active plan and was exploring her possibilities.

After twenty years of recruiting and counseling clients, companies, and candidates about careers, I’ve found that being proactive in your selection of positions and companies is key. What impressed me most about this doctor/researcher was how she got to the crux of things and focused on where she could add value to an organization.

“With my clinical and research skills, plus my ability to consider complex challenges, I think consulting is the way to go,” she told me.

We spoke further and I told her that she had many talents, but the most important of these were her awareness of which tools she had in her toolbox, how to use these tools, and most of all, to continually add skills to her toolbox.

This is the time of year to take stock of what’s in that box of skills. As you assess these abilities, remember to consider both hard skills like technical expertise, subject matter knowledge, computer skills, or specialized knowledge. Soft skills are important too, but they need to be presented in a impactful way. For example, if you feel you are a strong communicator, that’s great – but describe it in more concrete ways, like the ability to write a strong proposal, or deliver a report to a client, or present at a conference. It’s always better to describe the tools that you have, and how they apply to prospective employers, than merely stating that you have them.

When you do an inventory of your “tools”, you can also compare them to the activities you enjoy the most in the workplace. These activities, consisting of what you like and what you are best at doing, often align. Furthermore, sometimes you need to update your “tools” and/or get a refresher. This can include a seminar, a short course, a full length program, or on-the-job experiences. Making sure that you are current and growing as a professional will have huge impact on your career advancement.

Remember that doctor and how I admired her active plan? Many professionals fall into a job and let their career wander; sometimes this works fine, but other times you can wake up and find you have become stagnant. By regularly checking in on your skills, your interests, and your continued growth as a professional, you will take charge of your future. Each time you consider other options within your firm or outside your firm, you will want to evaluate the opportunities on three merits.

  • Is the role a good match of my skills and the needs of the company?
  • How will I add value to the organization in this role?
  • Will I learn new skills and gain capabilities that will allow me to have more options in the future?

If you are aware of your self and proactive with the management of your career, you will have more options. The end of the year is a good time to be self-reflective. Make those lists of your many talents, consider your professional and personal interests, and evaluate if it may be time to sharpen up some of your tools, or invest in some new ones. New year, new possibilities.

Teenagers R Tuff

Teenagers R Tuff

Yesterday the parking gods shared their karma with me and created a spot right at the front door of CVS. I was just running in for a moment after dropping off my son at school. I promised myself that I would be sitting at my desk by 9:30, working. My lack of discipline with work was making me feel anxious, so I was attempting to be focused. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed first one backpack laden kid, with square, hip, black glasses leaving, and another kid several feet behind him. Both had on “the uniform “of dark well-worn t-shirts and slouchy jeans. I became a bit nostalgic.

The high school is right around the corner so at 9:10 in the morning, they were either skipping school or on final exam schedule. My older children had graduated from there four and seven years ago, respectively, so I remembered a few things about the life of a high school teenager. Typically I wouldn’t have given them a second thought. With my daughter graduating college recently, I found myself more emotional. A strong pang of missing my kids washed over me. It was hard to believe they were both out of college now and on their own.

Then I heard a voice, “Excuse me,” a pause, “Yes, you with the back pack.”

It wasn’t a loud voice, but it stopped the second slender kid in his tracks. I slowed to watch, but then told myself I needed to focus and proceed on my errand. Despite the woman’s voice not being overly loud, I could still hear her as I perused the aisles.

“Did you pay for the items you put in your backpack? The soda? The other thing?” she queried him.

As I came around my row I got a glimpse of his face. No expression. The woman motioned for him to follow her to another section. My stomach clenched, shit, first I wondered if they were singling him out because he was black (racial profiling had been discussed on NPR just that morning). Then I thought, that could easily be my kid doing something dumb. I pushed my thoughts aside and continued my search. I found myself in the same row as the first woman, the boy, and they were now joined by a second female.

She was much louder, maybe the manager I guessed.
“We could call the police you know!” she said with emphasis on POLICE.

I didn’t hear him respond, and wondered how his face looked now. I felt ill and wanted to cry.

The woman’s one sided conversation continued, “Do you know it’s against the law to take things without paying for them?”

I lost much of the rest of the diatribe as I tried to shake off my sentimentality. I missed my kids and part of me felt protective of this boy regardless if he was remorseful. I remembered my good friend calling me the night her daughter got caught shoplifting. Initially her daughter had been stony faced but finally broke down. I wondered if this tough teenager was hiding a scared small boy inside him. I wondered what his mother might feel like if she was here.

Another conversation, going on in Spanish, right next to me was distracting. The Spanish piqued my interest and as I listened, I realized they were also discussing the teenager. I tried to see what I could decipher. The man and the woman were definitely discussing the same altercation. The man was shocked that the police weren’t called. The woman explained that they had the choice to press charges or not. I concluded she was an employee as well. Why was the man so strident for prosecution? I was feeling apprehensive. Couldn’t he see it was just a young kid who had made a mistake?

Their conversation droned on, the loud voiced store manager continued as well. Focus I reminded myself, you are not his mother, this is not your problem. I found myself re-reading the labels on the products as I tried to decide which one to purchase. Finally, I identified what I had come to buy and proceeded to the self-checkout.
The friend in the glasses returned, finally noticing his buddy hadn’t followed him out of the store. For some reason this made the whole situation more human. I thought, they didn’t plan this, they are just two regular kids who came over for a snack. It made me appreciate the employees’ sensitivity.

By this time, the two female employees and the shoplifter were in the main part of the store, standing near the entrance. They did appear to be letting him go. For some reason this stuck out in my mind. I still wondered though, were they too lenient? Had they put enough of the fear of police and arrest into him? I was sadder and less indignant than the Spanish speakers. What if they had insisted on the police? What if that ruined his life? He looked younger than 18 but who knows what can happen?

I had an urge to follow the two boys out of the store and let them know that if I was their mother I would have been scared for them. I wanted them to know the seriousness of what they had done. I wondered what it would have been like if it was one of my kids.

Tonight I shared the story with my boyfriend. I asked him if he had ever shoplifted and he said, “Sure, didn’t you?” I paused, “Yeah, you are right, I did too, not that often, but once or twice, little things.” Guess some kids are lucky, they don’t get caught and they grow out of the thrill. I hoped, since this kid got a break, he would realize how fortunate he was and not do it again.

FIFTY IS NIFTY

FIFTY IS NIFTY

FIFTY IS NIFTY
I’m fifty this year, and I have a black eye. No, my boyfriend Bill didn’t slap me around. My dog, who I was securing to a post, did see another dog. She decided to say hello to said dog, and took the post with her. On her way, the post had serious contact with my face. Fifty and I have bruises on my shins from soccer. Half a century old, and my nails are jagged from wall climbing at the gym. I’m a fifty year old mother of three, who the day after yoga climbs out of bed, just a little bit slowly because I’m sore. I still wake up without an alarm clock and it’s never the same time, probably because I never go to bed at a specific hour.

Some days, it’s from exhaustion at 9pm right after I put my nine year old to sleep. Some days, my mind won’t shut down and I sit and journal till my hand cramps or my eyes droop shut. Some days, I get distracted, and stop at my computer to look at a school project, my board fundraising event, a soccer team management issue, or, I know I shouldn’t, but sometimes it’s just regular work. If Bill can’t be there curled up in bed with me, a good night call is the next best thing to close my day.

I am slowing down, it may not seem like it, but I do say no, a bit more often. My older children say they don’t notice, but I do. I’ve come to realize it’s not being busy that matters, but what I am doing and whom I am doing it with, that matters most. Keeping my perspective on life is about balance, I’m working towards it, but I’m not perfect, yet.

Taking things day by day, moment by moment, is the first step. It’s easier now that there’s only one child left at home. Or maybe it’s because I have become wiser or more relaxed. Yesterday, after climbing at the gym with Shane, we came home bushed. It was our last day of Spring Break. We decided, instead of making a full-fledged meal, we would to take the easy route. Opened the refrigerator door wide, looked inside, and started pulling out stuff to hand to my son. First; a slice of pizza wrapped in foil, next a Tupperware of grilled chicken, some bacon from breakfast, finally fresh spinach and carrots. It was a mish mash of food.

We decided to treat ourselves to “dinner and a movie” in the rec room. Normally, we eat in the kitchen, at the counter, sans distractions. Having warmed, assembled and plated our leftovers, we grabbed drinks and headed for the basement. We flipped through the options and rather quickly agreed to watch the Rise of the Guardians. I have no idea what rating Rotten Tomatoes gave the movie, we normally check, but decided to wing it. Living on the edge, it was daring. In between, eating, doing a load of laundry, (I still couldn’t totally let go and be irresponsible) we snuggled, Shane, Madison (the boxer who blackened my eye) and I. We laughed, we were moved, I mean after all it’s a kid’s movie, there have to be educational moments. Didn’t matter that dinner wasn’t perfect, and at 50, I’m not either.