Last week I introduced the benefits of informational interviews including a discussion about why they are so critical to incorporate into your job or career search. Hopefully by now I have convinced you that the informational interview is a highly valuable tool to use when considering an occupation, sector or particular organization.
But now that we understand the importance of the informational interview, the question remains: how do you go about setting one up? When you are attempting to transition into a new field or company you are probably trying to do so with a limited network of contacts to leverage (or maybe no contacts at all). Getting started on building your network, and consequently your reputation within the sector, can be a daunting task. The informational interview, however, is an excellent way to get this process started.
Here are my top 5 strategies for setting up informational interviews:
5) Connect to past alumni from relevant schools: If pursuing post-secondary education is a component of your career transition, the institutions offering certifications in your area can be helpful in connecting you to past alumni of the programs. Schools will often hold information sessions to promote certain programs to prospective students. An event like this could feature presentations by past students who are now working in the field after going through the program. I recently attended one such session for a local institution that included 3 graduates from the most recent cohort who shared their experiences and thoughts about the program. Not only were their stories useful and informative, but the informal networking opportunity that followed presented attendees a great opportunity to liaise with them on a more personal level. This non-threatening environment would have been the perfect setting to set up an informational interview or at least exchange contact information to follow-up later.
If there are no promotional events scheduled in the near future, tapping into alumni through teachers or program advisors is another viable option. Some schools do a really good job at keeping in touch with graduates, so it is definitely worth scheduling an appointment with a representative of the institution to ask where graduates are working. If the school maintains any contact with previous students, they may be able to connect you with those who have transitioned from school to the workforce.
4) Join and get active in a professional association: Most occupations have an overarching membership organization that schedules various events related to networking and professional development for practitioners in the field. For example, in my field we have the BC Career Development Association and practicing paralegals have the BC Paralegal Association. These organizations can be instrumental in providing you inside access to people working in your desired profession. They often host conferences, training workshops and other special events that industry insiders attend to enhance their knowledge base and network with other professionals. I strongly encourage you to explore whether your preferred career has such an association and if so, become a member! Or better yet, volunteer! Associations usually need event help or other volunteer assistance to help deliver their services. Getting active in your industry association will grant you access to key events where you will have the chance to meet and network with experts in the field. These venues are ideal for informal conversations and exchanging business cards, which will help you develop a pool of connections that you can approach for informational interviews later.
3) Leverage social media platforms: As our world moves increasingly online, tools like Twitter and LinkedIn are becoming more and more important to job search and career exploration. These platforms are free, universally available and can be highly effective in helping you establish connections with practicing professionals. Just how useful they are will of course depend on the nature of your particular sector. Some industries use them more frequently than others, but if your career path is leading you towards an occupation that involves any meaningful amount of computer-based work (as so many careers do these days), it is definitely worth creating Twitter and LinkedIn accounts to start searching for other local professionals in your desired field or organization. This is a non-invasive way to casually connect with other individuals, ultimately allowing you an opportunity to ask about the possibility of an informational interview.
2) Find contacts through the websites of specific organizations: Whether you are seeking to work at a particular company or just trying to get a sense of the relevant organizations in the local landscape for your industry, targeting specific organizational websites can often lead you to the names and contact information of potential informational interview candidates. Check out the “Contact Us” or “Who We Are” tabs on the homepages of the companies that interest you to see who works in the organizations; more often than not corresponding phone numbers and/or email addresses will be provided as well. Use this information to initiate contact, introduce yourself, explain your interest in becoming a _________ (insert career here) or working for the organization and inquire about setting up an informational interview.
1) Maximize the value of your existing network: Even though you may not directly know many (if any) people in your new industry or company, there is a good chance that someone you know can help you establish a connection. The clients I work with who have been the most successful in conducting meaningful informational interviews really buy into the “six degrees of separation” principle. They network hard within their existing pool of social and professional contacts to see if anyone knows anyone who knows anyone, etc… who works in the field or for that specific organization. You might be surprised at how far your existing network stretches (friends, family, past co-workers) and it is probable that if you work that inner circle hard enough, somewhere along the line you will find someone who will be able to connect you to your first informational interview prospect.
There are many different strategies you can use to arrange informational interviews, and hopefully the ones above are enough to at least get your creative juices flowing. To conclude, I would like to recommend one final thing all effective job seekers do when sourcing out a new field or company: asking to be referred to other contacts once you have established a connection and completed an informational interview. Once you have done all the hard work to set up your first meeting with a complete stranger, you will want to get as much value out of it as possible. No need to start from scratch again! Try to tap into the network of your interviewee, which is probably quite vast given they are practicing professionals in your chosen industry. Politely asking at the end of your informational interview if the person can recommend any other people to talk to can be hugely beneficial in helping you get your snowball rolling. And more often than not, the person is more than happy to do it! Visit our next post for the top 10 questions to ask in an informational interview.