Conducting a proactive job search is, by far, the most effective way to land your next position. Rather than merely reacting to the market by responding to postings, answering ads or attending job fairs, proactive job-seekers target companies where they'd like to work and network their way through the door. They identify potential contacts within these firms (by way of their personal network or online tools like LinkedIn), set up a networking meeting (aka an informational interview) and establish multiple insider connections.
So how is the best way to conduct an informational interview, create a positive impression and leave your contacts with the idea that you'd be a great addition to their team? Here are three strategies that will help you do just that.
#1) Be professional, organized and focus your meeting on information gathering only.
When you're conducting your face-to-face meeting, be certain you don't give the impression you're asking for a job. If you do, the person with whom you're networking could feel like they've been deceived. Your visit is for information gathering only and a chance to learn from his or her experience, obtain knowledge of the company, and, most of all, to make another ally in your job search.
- Dress like this is a regular job interview -- you are making a first impression with someone inside your targeted company so you'll want to look your best.
- Watch your body language: good posture, firm handshake, appropriate eye contact, etc.
- Be on time and come prepared with a list of well thought-out questions that show you are knowledgeable about the field and the company's direction.
- Ask if you can take notes and, if so, take them. Writing down information shows you're interested and that you care enough to want to remember the suggestions they're giving you.
#2) Order your questions for maximum impact.
It's best to ask your questions in a certain order. Here are some sample questions you may wish to use.
- What is a typical day like for you around here?
- How did you break into this field?
- What do you most enjoy about your job?
- How do you see your firm's recent move into Eastern Europe impacting your long-range goals as an organization?
- How will the new regulatory changes affect the needs of your customers?
- Which types of individuals thrive in the company culture and succeed around here?
- Which types/levels of training and experience would make someone a competitive candidate?
- Do you think someone with my background would be a good fit for this organization? Why? Why not?
- Would you mind briefly reviewing my resume and giving me any suggestions you have that would make it stronger? (Only ask this if you've built a strong rapport.)
- You've been so helpful. Do you know anyone else who might be willing to give me his or her perspective on this field/organization? And may I use your name?
#3) Follow up and establish an ongoing connection.
A couple of days after the networking meeting, send a thank-you email or note expressing your gratitude for their advice and listing specific ways you have or will follow up on their suggestions:
- Thank you for suggesting I contact Mary Marketer. We have an appointment set up for next week.
- Thank you for suggesting I read the article in Salesperson Weekly. I've done so and found it to be extremely helpful.
- End your networking message with, "Thanks again and I will keep you apprised of my progress." That way, you've opened the door to contacting them from time to time and have a reason to keep the relationship going.
- Reciprocate whenever appropriate. If you come up with any articles or contacts that might benefit your networking partner(s), be sure to pass the information along.
This is networking at it's finest. You are meeting face-to-face with people within your targeted company(s), making a great first impression, and your list of professional contacts is growing. If something comes up in the hidden job market that would fit you and your experience, you are very likely to find yourself at the top of their candidate list.
Moreover, given your positive impression and the fact that you have established an ongoing relationship, your contacts are likely to go out of their way to bring you on their team. Recommending an upbeat, can-do candidate enhanced by the motivation of a hefty referral bonus is a very attractive combination.
So be proactive, target organizations that interest you and use your network to create contacts on the inside. As every savvy job-seeker knows: It's not necessarily what you know but, rather, who you know that will make all of the difference!
Mary Eileen Williams is a Nationally Board Certified Career Counselor with a Master's Degree in Career Development and twenty years' experience assisting midlife jobseekers to achieve satisfying careers. Her book, Land the Job You Love: 10 Surefire Strategies for Jobseekers Over 50, is a step-by-step guide that shows you how you can turn your age into an advantage and brand yourself for success. Updated in 2014, it's packed with even more critical information aimed at providing mature applicants with the tools they need to gain the edge over the competition and successfully navigate the modern job market. Visit her website at Feisty Side of Fifty.com and celebrate your sassy side!