Last week I posted twice on the topic of informational interviews (see here and here). I would estimate that maybe only 1 in 10 job seekers actually try informational interviewing. I don't have any statistical evidence to prove it, but my intuition and experience tell me that those who effectively employ and informational interview strategy in their job search are far more likely to land well. The following success stories demonstrate the value of this activity:
Success Story #1
Mariah contacted me a few years ago when she was becoming burned out and frustrated in her position as a Marketing Coordinator at a small office systems supply company. I asked, as I always do, "What do you want to do?" Like many folks, she just didn't know. Now let me say at this point, there is no shame at all in not knowing what you want to do in your career. With the variety of opportunities and choices available, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and not sure where to start. However, there is a problem if you continue for years and years with no idea. It's important to figure out a plan to get you unstuck. This is where informational interviews can help.
I asked Mariah a bit about her education, and her likes and dislikes with her current and past situations. She told me about a job she once had at a vocational college where one of her tasks was to help students learn basic computer skills so they could complete class assignments. We started talking about computer training and she mentioned that a company called ExecuTrain had offices in the building she currently worked in, and she had always wondered what they do. You can guess what happened from there...we strategized about how to get in the door for an informational interview, what to ask and how to follow-up. She called, secured an appointment and had a great time meeting with the manager.
Lo and behold they happened to have an opening. They were impressed with Mariah's assertiveness and self-confidence, so they invited her to interview. Although they had candidates with more experience, Mariah had built a relationship during her informational session and got the job! She ended up loving the position - her student evaluations were consistently very high and most of all she had fun.
Of course, this doesn't always happen when you go for an informational interview. A lot of times the person you meet won't have a job open, but if you build a productive relationship there is no telling what the future can bring. Read on...
Success Story #2
About 11 years ago I was feeling a bit frustrated in my work. I was pregnant with my first child and I was just beginning to think about the concept of work/family balance. In conversation with a student intern at my company (Wendy) I mentioned these concerns. Wendy told me that one of her faculty members at the U was always talking about work/family issues. She was an adjunct faculty member who worked full time in HR at a local Fortune 500 company and had 2 children of her own.
Because I believed so strongly in the value of informational interviewing even back then, I got the instructor's phone number, called her up, and asked if we could meet so I could learn about what she was thinking about work and family in the corporate world. We met and had a great conversation. That was it...until over a year later when the same woman called me because she had a position posted in her department and thought of me. She'd already received several resumes but hadn't found the right fit. I interviewed and got the job. It was a great career move for me, and it all started with an informational interview some time earlier.
I've also gotten two other jobs through informational interviews. It's a strategy that works!
However, we all know that sometimes there isn't even a job down the road for you. You have a nice meeting, ask your questions, and go away, and you never hear from the person again (even though you follow-up professionally!). I have had this happen. However, that doesn't mean that that the meeting isn't useful. If you can net good information about a company, an industry or a career path that helps you get closer to making a decision about your next step, then you have had a successful meeting.
Remember, the first measure of success for an informational interview, is did you acquire good quality information? The second, and equally important measure of success is did you give something in return? By give something in return I mean did you allow the person you met with to share something valuable and good about themselves and feel like they were making a contribution to your success (believe it or not it is a gift to allow people to do this - anyone with a true professional spirit knows this!). Making a good professional connection and getting a job lead are third and fourth measures of success to be concerned with.
If you've never done it, I encourage you to try informational interviewing as a means of growing in your career. It takes courage and effort, but it's well worth it!