Getting a job today is just as much about who you know as what you know. It’s all about your network.
You may have already learned this lesson in your own job search. It is extremely daunting to have thoughtfully and meticulously written a resume and cover letter, only to hit “send”: casting it off into the online job application ether, never knowing what happens to it at the other end, or who, if anyone at all, is reading it. It’s always better to put a face to a name, or to have an “in” with someone who already works at the company you’re interested in.
And for this reason, an extremely important networking tool at your disposal is the informational interview. I remember vividly graduating from my undergrad, feeling wildly unprepared to enter the “real world”. This was mostly due to the fact that I had moved to a new province for University, leaving my large network behind in small town Ontario and attempting to replant myself in Montreal. I was lucky to have met some incredibly resourceful and smart women during my time at University who taught me the tricks and the trade of expanding your network. Here we go:
First you have to think, really think, about who you currently have in your network
If you’re just starting out in your career, or trying to break into a new industry, it’s easy to think you know nobody. Or at least, not the right people to help your cause. Not true! That is your defeatist brain telling you tales again. Do a quick scan on LinkedIn at the companies you are interested in, and see who you know in common. Or frame the question differently. You might be dying to work at Google or Aritzia, and think you’re network is useless because you aren’t connected to anyone who works there. Focus instead on what type of job you’re interested in and see who within your network can connect to someone with that title. Maybe a friend of a friend recently made a really interesting viral video that caught your attention and you want to find out how they did it. That’s enough of a reason. This can shape how you think about your network and who you’re already connected to by association.
For the love of god, when you find someone you want to connect with, ASK!
Your dream career can’t afford to wait while you wallow in shyness. Whether you’ve taken some time to reflect on who is currently in your network and recognized some inspirational people you’d love to connect with, or you’ve been sitting on a few options for a while but fear has been holding you back…
DON’T LET IT!
You have literally nothing to lose. That’s the beauty of the informational interview, it can only open doors. You might even be surprised to find out people are actually quite keen to connect you. Because so many friends have graciously gone out of their way to connect me, whenever I’m asked to I jump at the opportunity to return the favor. We’re all out here doing our best. Send a facebook message, or a phone call is better. And follow up. Half the time someone may not make good on their promise because they simply forgot.
Okay amazing, you scored an interview! Now you have to prepare, and have a vague idea of what you hope to achieve
If possible set up the meeting face to face. If you conduct a phone interview you might find that all you’re thinking of is how to end the conversation. Face to face meetings allow you to connect with someone on a much deeper level. But if not the phone is the second best option. Before your meeting, research the company, and the person you’re speaking with. Understand the intent of the meeting and then create a list of questions that will help you and so that you can look back on them later. I made this mistake the first few calls I had: I almost expected them to guide the conversation. Remember, it’s you who asked to set this up, so understand what you’d like to achieve from the call. If the end goal is a job, you will most likely be disappointed. But there are so many other goals that can be achieved from an informational interview:
Learning more about a new role you’re interested in trying
Learning about how a department within a company functions
Learning more about a role you are applying for within a company
Don’t be afraid to take notes. And have your questions to guide you but don’t stick to them rigidly: let the conversation flow naturally. This isn’t an actual interview, and if you find you’re gleaning information you didn’t think you would that is interesting, allow yourself to learn. Most importantly, be sincere. People can sense sincerity and it will make them more excited about helping you if you’re sincerely interested in what they do or where they work.
Always try to get another name
This is the best piece of advice I’ve ever received regarding informational interviews: try to always get another name. If the conversation is going well and the person you’re speaking with says, “it sounds like you’re interested in X, you should really talk to this person”, jump on it! Follow up immediately and get that person’s contact information. And don’t forget to thank the person who initially put you in touch as well as the person you spoke with.
Have 0 Expectations
Do not expect a job. Just be open to the possibility of having a conversation with someone about a field or company you are interested in. If you don’t expect anything, anything can happen!