By Shannon Houde
Informational interviews are one of the sharpest tools in the jobseeker’s box, but, to my constant bewilderment, they are among the least used. Maybe it’s fear, maybe it’s simply lack of awareness, but if you’re looking for a new role in sustainability or corporate responsibility, listen up!
You can sit down and pick the brains of someone whose career trajectory you covet. You can use the opportunity to get insider info and contacts. And – most helpfully, I’ll argue – you can set yourself up for an internal referral for the next vacancy at Dream Company X. All you have to do is ask.
Part of the joy of social media is that it puts you in direct communication with people you wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to connect with. Whether you’re a Twitter fan or a lover of LinkedIn, today’s jobseeker has the benefit of targeting the right person to speak to from the comfort of their laptop, and, making the opening approach via every introvert’s favorite medium: email. The days of stuttering awkward conversations over tepid conference coffee are over!
1. Make your hit list
Finding the right person to reach out to is the first step. Maybe you already have somebody in mind? If not, go through the ‘who’s who’ lists on the websites of your wish-list companies and look for people who are in the job you want five years from now. Ideally, you’ll find someone you have some sort of connection to: perhaps there’s an alumnus from your old university, or someone who did the same undergrad degree as you at a different school, or maybe you have contacts in common on LinkedIn.
Speaking of LinkedIn, here’s a super-smart way to use the network to target great contacts from a previous blog of mine: On LinkedIn, click on the Advanced Search option, select “people” and set the location to your country. In the “title” field, type the title of your dream job. From the drop-down menu, select “current.” Use the “company” and “industry” fields to narrow down your search. Up will pop a list of potential informational interviewees in your network.
2. It’s all about them
I’ve already mentioned that you can make your initial approach via email, and for many this will be the preferred option. However, if you can summon the courage to pick up the phone, then do so: Connecting with another human being voice-to-voice is worth a thousand emails. (I wrote a blog recently on phone etiquette – check it out here.)
Whichever option you choose, don’t jump in without doing some research on the person, what they do, and the company they do it for to help you make a compelling pitch and show them why it’s worth their while giving you their time. You may have personal motives in contacting this person, but remember that the primary reason you’re doing it is to find out more about them and learn from their experiences. Keep the ‘I’ statements for later.
3. Plan ahead
Once your preferred interviewee has accepted, prepare in the same way you would for a regular job interview. One of my favorite strategies for this is as follows:
- Take an A4 piece of paper and fold in it half top to bottom
- On the top, list the things you want this person to know about you by the end of the interview – your skills, your education, your passions and values, your USP
- On the bottom, list what you want to walk away with. These can include specific information or insights, or perhaps further ideas of people to talk to or follow on social media
Doing this will give you a structure for the conversation, ensure you get the most out of it, and also help to avoid any awkward silences. But don’t forget to listen first and foremost!
4. Keep building
After the interview, it goes without saying that you’ll extend your interviewee some common courtesy and write a note thanking them for their time. But don’t forget that now you’re connected, it’s up to you to build and enhance the relationship.
Try sharing articles or insights you think they might be interested in to keep the conversation going, or help them find something (or someone!) they mentioned they needed. The more you give, the more you’ll receive. That way, when a job comes up at their company or with another organization you know they have links to, you’ll be in a much better position to ask them to consider passing your CV directly to the hiring manager. Internal referrals are 50% more likely to get the job, so in the ultra-competitive world of CSR and sustainability where CVs get a ten second speed-read from busy HR execs, this is a major count in your favor.
So, there you have it – a four step guide to help you shimmy into the next phase of your sustainability career. For some bespoke advice and training on networking and developing your personal brand, get in touch.
Shannon Houde is founder of Walk of Life Consulting, the first international career and executive coaching business focused solely on the impact, sustainability and corporate responsibility fields.
Image credit: Kris Hoet, via Flickr