Most jobs are never advertised, so the best way to fast-track your search and access the hidden job market is via informational interviews a.k.a. networking meetings or informational meetings.
Switch from Reactive to Proactive Job Search Mode
Even with the odds stacked against them, the majority of job seekers resort to online postings as their primary way to find a job. They spend the bulk of their time–along with everyone else– sourcing positions via job boards like indeed.com.
- On average, an employer receives 250 resumes for an open position.
- From those resumes, 4-6 candidates are selected for an in-person interview.
- Only one person gets the offer.
While looking online can give you a sense of what’s out there, it should represent one small part of an integrated job search. Rather than relying on this method, put most of your energy into talking with people who may be connected to companies you’d like to work for.
In one example from Designing Your Life, by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, when “Kurt” shifted to a targeted networking strategy, he yielded 7 high-quality job offers from 56 conversations. He accessed those roles not by asking for a job but by being curious about those he talked with.
How to Find Good Networking Contacts
First, make a list of the companies you’d like to work for using resources such as your local Book of Lists or using Google Maps searching terms such as “engineering firms near Pittsburgh, PA” (not using the quotation marks) which will generate company names in your area. You can use ChatGPT and use a prompt such as “Can you make a list of companies in Pittsburgh that specialize in civil engineering?”
From there, make a list of people to talk with.
Start with friends and family, then expand to who you may know in alumni organizations, professional associations, your athletic club, fellow volunteers, and your first-level LinkedIn connections.
Do your contacts work for or know someone who works for one of your target companies? Do they have a similar professional background or hold a position that is aspirational for you? Even if they’re not in a related field, don’t eliminate anyone in these early stages.
Finesse Your Request + Skip the Coffee!
Once you’ve made your list, send them a note, adjusting the tone and content based on the nature of your relationship.When you request an informational interview, ask for just 20 to 30 minutes of their time. And to boost your odds of getting a “yes,” ask for a phone call or a video chat. Coffee meetings can seem daunting for busy people, requiring much more time.
For close connections, you could say something like:
“Hi Jackson, I hope this finds you well. Did you make it to New York this summer? I wanted to let you know that I’m in career transition seeking a new senior operations role in consumer products. When you have the chance, I’d love to reconnect and gain your insights, as well as any contacts you think I should be talking with. Do you have a few minutes for a phone call in the next couple of weeks? Thanks in advance, and I look forward to talking with you.” Elaborate and expand as appropriate.
For next-level connections, if you’re not introduced via email or LinkedIn, then mention who referred you and keep the focus on information-gathering:
“Katherine, Jackson Fisher suggested I contact you as an excellent person to talk with about DEF company, your background, and experience as operations director, and to get your perspective on the competitive landscape in your business. Would you have time for a 20-30-minute phone call in the next couple of weeks? Thanks for your consideration, and I look forward to talking with you soon.”
For people you don’t know, consider using LinkedIn InMail (via a premium account, a consideration for the duration of your search). Talk about how they got on your radar and why you’d like to talk with them:
“Dear Thomas, I recently read your article on LinkedIn about building stronger customer relationships–a topic I’m passionate about as a senior customer success executive. I’d love to hear more about your career trajectory and your experience creating the incentive program you mentioned in the article. Would you have time for a quick 20-minute phone call? Thanks for your consideration.”
The Top Conversation Killer
The #1 mistake job seekers make in an informational interview is to ask, “Do you know of any job openings in your company?” or “Do you know of any available opportunities?”
This approach can shut the conversation down fast. What if your contact doesn’t know about any open jobs? Remember, your goal is information, so come from a place of genuine curiosity. Honor the timeframe you requested and make a short list of questions that can include:
- Tell me about your role at ABC Company.
- What’s it like to work there?
- What are your biggest challenges?
- What are the biggest opportunities you see in your work / at your company / the industry?
Your Main Goal
As you wrap up, ask who in their network would be good for you to talk with. As you continue conversations, you’ll likely surface job opportunities.
At some point, your contact will probably ask what you’re looking for. Connect the dots and be clear about your target role(s) and companies of interest. Avoid saying “I’m open to anything.” Being too broad about your goals makes it hard for people to know where you’d fit. If you’re pursuing two paths, say, “I’m looking at either sales management or direct sales roles in hospitality or food and beverage companies.
The Final Steps
Finally, remember to ask how you can help them. Just like your contact, you’re a professional and you’ve accumulated knowledge, experience, and connections. Be generous and reciprocate however you can.
Thank them just as you would for a regular job interview, both as you end the conversation and with a follow-up thank you email or note. Thank them for their time, stay in touch, and let them know when you do land a new job.
I’m Dalena Bradley, job interview and career marketing coach dedicated to helping you communicate your value, stand out from the competition, and win the job!
Contact me to discuss how we can collaborate.