FYI, Informational Interviews Are Where It’s At!

This post appeared on November 11th, 2008 as a part of the Career Corner Advice Series.

Whenever I talk with a group of people about how they are conducting their job search, I like to start with a series of questions. I ask, “Who has sent off at least five resumes this week?” A lot of people raise their hands. “Who has attended at least three networking events this month?” A smaller number of people raise their hands. “Who has conducted an informational interview with a professional in either a field or a position that interests you?” If I am lucky, I get one or two hands raised. Usually no one raises their hands.

After blogging about honing your personal mission statement and rolling out your networking plan, us Career Corner folks (well, Meg and I) would like for you to embark on what could be the most fruitful phase of your job search… the all-important informational interview.

I hope my story about an informational interview I conducted will help you see the value:

I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area several years ago and I’d moved there with the professional intention of getting out of the classroom for a while. I’d been teaching for several years by that point and I wanted to do something different. I figured that, with my background in education and my ability to write, I’d be a great developer, fundraiser, and grant writer for a local educational nonprofit. Problem was that I didn’t really have the experience yet. I did, however, have a good friend who worked for a small grant-writing group as a writer so I asked her if I could connect with her boss Carol.

I started off the conversation by asking, “Given my background as a teacher, what transferable skills do you think I need to highlight on my resume to make me stand out?” Carol then asked to see my resume (which I, of course, had with me… but I let her ask me to see it!) and within fifteen minutes she had marked up my resume with useful suggestions: “Move this bit up here, move this bit down. Highlight this because grant-seekers are going to really notice that. Delete that. Emphasize this experience.” As her right hand was making my resume “grant-writer ready” her left hand was bringing up various contacts that she thought would be interested in talking with me. I knew I’d made a very wise choice to conduct this interview once I started hearing, “Based on your experiences in Japan, I think Tom over at X organization would be interested in talking with you” and “Suzanne at Y organization did this same program. You should chat with her.”

As a result of that one hour, I had four more informational interviews with other organizations in town and applied for two jobs through Carol’s connections. I was offered one of those jobs. Not a bad haul for an hour of work.

So, when I ask job seekers if they are diligently sending off emails into cyberspace and everyone raises their hands, I then ask if they think it might be more valuable to take that hour and talk to someone in the field who can tell the job seeker how their personal journey into their current role, suggest people and organizations for the job seeker to contact, as well as hopefully become one more professional to your networking pool. Most everyone agrees that an hour of informational interviewing is an hour well spent.

To read more about how to set up, conduct, and follow up with an informational interview, check out Chapter Four of The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for Sector Switchers or Chapter Four of The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for First-Time Job Seekers.

This entry is by Steven Joiner, Director of the Career Transitions Program and author of The Idealist Guide to Nonprofit Careers for Sector Switchers.

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