Education Career Services

April 23, 2010

Informational Interview: Beyond the Receptionist

The person with the power in many companies is the receptionist (aka gatekeeper). This individual often protects the executive or hiring manager from unwanted interruptions and possesses an expertise at screening calls. They control whether or not you will get through to your desired contact in a company where you are seeking employment.  

You have to get past the gatekeeper to reach the hiring executives.

If the gatekeeper will not connect you with your target, go the passive approach and begin your networking with him or her. Don’t try flattery or kissing-up; these people are professionals and will see through your con artist act.  One of the purposes of making this initial contact is to gain information about the company, opportunities, expectations, etc.

During your initial contact, do NOT let them know you are not looking for a job. Worthy of a repeat, this is an informational meeting in which you are looking for unadvertised or future opportunities, which are not found within HR (thus, the reason you do not want to be sent to a vacuum of voice messages within the HR department.

Ask the receptionist questions you’d raise with the executive you are trying to contact.  Keep these to inquiries about the company and/or department as opposed to asking about the person you want to pursue.  Your purpose is to learn as much as possible about any available, unadvertised positions within the corporation and learn about the culture of the workplace. Asking for personal information about your target contact is unprofessional and serves no purpose.  It will also get you cut off and put on the do-not-call list.

After networking with the gatekeeper, ask who else they think you should talk with in the company.  Many times, the gatekeeper may be impressed enough to put you through to the contact rather than pass you on to someone else.  Occasionally, they will give you another connection in the company, at which point, you will take advantage of this as a “lateral pass”.  Use the gatekeeper’s name when introducing yourself to the next contact (e.g., “Ms. Brown in Mr. Black’s office told me to contact Mr. Green”).

Always be polite and show respect.  You never know who the gatekeeper really is and how much influence they have with the powers that be.

Ultimately, do not become discouraged as statistics indicate it will take 100 calls to receive 3 positive leads. Through hard work, perseverance, and diligence, success is sure to follow.

Danny Huffman, MA, CEIP, CPCC, CPRW
Owner, Author, Publisher
Career Services International, www.careersi.com
Education Career Services, www.educationcs.com
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/dannyhuffman

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November 26, 2009

Informational Interviews: Bring it Home…

Back to conclude yesterday’s submission dealing with informational interviews…enjoy it and never stop progressing:

For example, informational interviews will:

* Help you learn about careers within the industry
* Can be used to gauge company culture and if you fit in
* Help develop life-long networks
* Give insight into the non-advertised job market
* Give insight for scheduled interviews
* Develop rapport and referrals

Overall, informational interviews give you a leg up against other candidates AND can be used as an indicator when evaluating career matches.  For the record, informational requests are not to be used as a mechanism to ask for a job or a formal interview. This is not the time or the place to be an aggressive job seeker. If you think about it, that takes pressure off you and the person you interview, so now you can do some serious learning.  You know about the benefits, let’s look at your next step.

Your experience and educational background in research comes into play as well as your social and professional networks.  Once you identify a particular company or industry, talk to everyone you know about the company.  The cliché that “we live in a small world” will quickly become a little more real.  It may surprise you how close your network connections may be to decision makers. Through friends, classmates, family members, professors, neighbors, and career services counselors, chances are you will gain valuable insight without a great deal of effort, at least in the initial phase of simply asking.  From people in your network, jot down ideas and remember potential contacts within the company or industry; these may come in handy during informational interviews.

Once you have an outline of information you want to focus on, it is homework time. Research the organization and industry as you will be asking questions related to your findings.  Make a quick list of questions and identify what data your contact may be able to provide.  You will want to make a list of approximately 10-15 questions based upon the title and position of your contact.  The more you are prepared, the more likely the person on the phone will be happy to answer. As noted, people like to talk about themselves and especially their work.

Once you contact a professional in the field, explain that you are gaining information about his or her job responsibilities, requirements, company/industry needs, new processes, and so on.  Always make sure the individual has time for a discussion; if not, schedule a phone meeting at their convenience.

During informational interviews, have your résumé available in case you need a quick reference.  Stick to the time allotted (typically 30 minutes in length), do not take too much of the person’s time and, if the meeting goes well, ask to schedule another meeting, hopefully face-to-face.  Even if you receive a personal meeting, remember the purpose is to gather information—do not turn this into a job interview. You are “researching opportunities” in that particular field or industry.

Once your informational interview is over, write the responses and review them as your career decisions may hinge on the impressions taken from this and other informational interviews.  Send the person a thank you note as professional etiquette dictates that you treat the informational interview with the same standards as a job interview.  Once thank you notes have been sent, contact another professional within the company or industry.  Do not stop with a single perspective—the more input from various sources, the more accurate the representation will be.

Possible informational interview questions include:

* What does failure mean to you?
* What qualities do you feel a successful employee should have?
* How do you demonstrate your ability to be innovative?
* What are some of the most effective ways to demonstrate teamwork?
* What three things are most important to you in your job?
* Tell me about a conflict you had with someone and how you handled it.
* Tell me about a major problem you encountered and how you handled it.
* What qualities do you admire in others?
* Tell me about a time a supervisor or peer criticized your work, how did you handle it?

Once it’s time for a formal interview, know that in recent years the use of behavior-modeled interview questions have dominated the interview process.  No matter the industry or job position, you must prepare for this type of setting.”

Okay, enough of the books for now.  To summarize, when networking, do everything you can to make the other person talk about him/herself, the company, and the needs within the company or department.  Do not turn this informational (informal) moment into a formal meeting.  Next time you go to a social (industry) function, keep your ears open, your words to be used as a catalyst for the other person (everyone likes a good listener and at this time, the information can be most invaluable), and the atmosphere to be comfortable.  During the first encounter, do not push for an interview but a follow-up on a specific topic of discussion. 

Find contacts through associations, foot traffic, networking events, and professional peers.  It’s not the easiest thing to do but developing a rapport is the foundation you are trying to accomplish. 

Hopefully I was not too exhaustive in my response.  If you need further help or would like my guidance in any other capacity, do not hesitate to ask. 

Danny Huffman, MA, CEIP, CPCC, CPRW
Owner, Author, Publisher
Career Services International
Education Career Services
dhuffman@careersi.com
www.linkedin.com/in/dannyhuffman
407-206-5883 (direct line)
866-794-3337 ext 110

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