Whoever came up with the old saying “searching for a job is a full-time job” wasn’t kidding around.
For most job seekers, finding employment means submitting applications until your fingers ache from typing and your brain hurts from churning out search terms. It means job fairs, countless applications disappearing into cyberspace, and listening to hours of unsolicited advice from friends and family, many of whom probably tell you that you need to be more aggressive in your networking.
But does that mean you’re supposed to come right out and ask anyone and everyone you meet get you a job? Absolutely not.
Networking at its core is about building mutually beneficial relationships with companies and individuals that can help you reach your career goals. So most of your efforts should be spent laying the groundwork for these relationships—or, more specifically, going on informational interviews with people who are already doing what you want to be doing.
All too often, people dismiss the value of the informational interview because they feel it’s a waste of time. After all, who has time to chase jobs that don’t exist when there are posted jobs that need to be applied for?
The truth is, 80% of jobs don’t get posted—they’re filled via word of mouth—so expanding the people in your network can drastically increase the number of opportunities that come across your radar. Even if there’s not a job on the line now, the informational interview empowers you to establish yourself as a candidate and a savvy networker who understands the importance of meaningful professional connections. When a job becomes available, the people you’ve talked to won’t post it publically—they’ll email you.
Here are the steps you can take to secure that informational interview that enables you to score job opportunities—without even having to ask about them.
1. Reach High Up
Your first step is identifying who to talk to. You can use tools such as LinkedIn’s advanced search to identify exactly who is in a hiring role, and ideally who could be your potential boss. Employees at your level may perceive you as a threat to their promotions, so direct your networking efforts to land informational interviews with people who have jobs in their pockets for you, or people who know people who can hire you.
For example, if you’re looking for an entry-level position, you should be contacting managers; if you’re aiming for a mid-level position, think senior managers and directors. (In most cases, employees above the vice president level are too high up and probably won’t respond.)
You should also look for meetings with people who can give you unbiased career-specific advice, even if they aren’t in a position to hire you or help you meet your immediate goals. This could mean meeting with someone who has had a long career in your field of interest but has since moved on to a new position or even retired, or a person who doesn’t work in the field at all but is well connected to industry insiders. Mentors are key.
2. Reach Out
Email serves as a great channel for this, unless you can find someone in your network who can broker an introduction.
Don’t worry about the fact that the people you’re emailing won’t recognize your name—just be sure to let them know you’re interested in learning more about them as people—their careers, their growth, their insights. Good networking is not about using them as a resume mill!
To get this right, check out these tips on how to get an important person to read and respond to your email.
3. Know Your Elevator Pitch
As soon as your emails and networking efforts land you that coveted meeting, it’s time to start polishing your elevator pitch. After all, your new contact is bound to ask you about yourself, and your response is the easiest way to quickly get across who you are and why you’re worth staying in touch with.
To build a stunning elevator pitch, practice the three steps I shared here on how to build an effective pitch that creates career miracles.
The “tell me about yourself” prompt also provides a unique opportunity to ease any doubts that may be looming in the mind of the person with whom you’re meeting. For example, if your resume says you’ve been working for an accounting firm but you’re meeting with a PR executive, use your pitch to explain why you want to make the transition.
4. Ask Passive Questions
Before the meeting, you’ll want to give some thought to what you want to get out of it, as well as what you have to give, so that you can walk out with more than just a laundry list of the person’s reflections and opinions.
Devise some strategic questions that can help you get the insights and offers you want (and make it clear that the person will benefit from helping you).
For example, if you are meeting with someone who has close ties to a company where you’re dying to get a job, try asking: “Do you have any advice for how I can stand out as a candidate?” If you’re lucky, your contact will see this question as an invitation to offer to pass your resume along to HR.
Another great question to follow up with is, “Do you have any suggestions on other companies I should be looking into?” Again, your contact may offer to connect you with friends who work in your industry of interest. Asking for recommendations about other possibilities often opens the door to introductions—all without asking for them.
(Hint: Here are other great tips to nailing the perfect informational interview.)
5. Keep Your Goal in Mind
Finally, go into the meeting with a clear idea on how others can support you, whether that means keeping an eye out for open positions or making connections to other companies. Done right, this isn’t pushy—by letting people know your goals, you’re allowing them the space to decide if they want to step up to the plate.
For example, one of my clients, Alex, needed to secure media coverage for her company. She successfully networked her way over to a meeting with a TODAY show anchor, and at the end of the meeting, Alex said, “At the moment, I’m looking to connect with more journalists and secure press coverage.” It was concise, specific, and aligned with the anchor’s network and interests. Needless to say, he offered to connect Alex to some of his colleagues.
The old saying “finding a job is a full-time job” isn’t without merit. Finding meaningful employment is a lot of work.
In the interest of getting what you want and deserve, take the time to identify the people you want to know, and commit to nurturing your relationship for the long-term. Use the informational interview to establish yourself as a serious networker and reassure people that you aren’t going to disappear once you get what you want by being a helpful person to them, too.
But the informational interview isn’t just for people who need a job. Great networkers understand that making powerful connections is a way of life, not just an activity reserved for times of desperation. In fact, the very worst time to schedule them is when your career is in distress.
So, start now. The relationships you build in these meetings will form the foundation of your professional network and ensure that you land the jobs you truly want—without ever having to ask.