Strategic Power Networking
Creating Genuine Connections & Quality Relationships
Networking is simply creating genuine connections with others. With this purity of intention, quality relationships are formed. These relationships have the power to sustain and inspire you. They afford you the opportunity to both give and receive in profound ways that enrich your life and the lives of those you touch.
I call my particular brand of networking “Strategic Power Networking.” This type of networking is when you create a specific networking action plan in order to achieve a particular professional objective. For your present circumstances, of course, your objective is to land your ultimate job.
Eighty percent of all jobs are gotten through some sort of personal connection. Statistics also show that up to 80 percent of jobs are not formally advertised. That means you should be spending approximately 80 percent of your job search time on networking. Indeed, networking is one of the best investments of your time because it connects you with people who can assist with your career advancement goals.
One of the most effective means of job search networking is the informational interview. In this article, I walk you through the strategic steps for conducting these types of interviews.
The Informational Interview
Now let’s get into the specifics of the informational interview. For your job search, this type of interview is one of the most effective ways to scout out promising job leads. As you know, many people land excellent positions through the connections they make through informational interviews.
The purpose of the information interview is to talk with successful people in your chosen field to gain information about the industry. Specifically, you can inquire as to the steps you need to take to get from where you are now to where you want to be. You can also ask for advice on how to apply your transferable skills and experience to land the position you want. Your contacts can also share information regarding the current state of the industry and related trends. Finally, each interviewee is a source of information about current job openings in your target field as well as additional contacts to meet with.
Informational interviews can take place over the telephone or in person. The preferred scenario is that you meet them at their office. This gives you the best chance of forging a strong personal connection and making a lasting impression.
It also affords you the opportunity to experience their work environment, observe the organizational culture and perhaps meet some of their coworkers. It’s also the most convenient for your contacts since they won’t have to venture out of the office to meet you.
Whether you can invest the time in meeting people in person depends on how much flexibility you have in your schedule. If you are working full-time while managing your job search, you may not have the time for face-to-face meetings. If this is the case, telephone meetings will do just fine.
Furthermore, if you’re looking to land a job in another city, obviously telephone meetings will be the way to go connect with people in your target geographic area. If you are open to either in person or telephone, leave it up to your interviewees to decide. If they chose an in-person meeting, let them decide the location.
Also, note that if you are doing these meetings over lunch or coffee, you should offer to pay. So, be careful about going out on too many lunches if you don’t have the budget to pick up the tab every time.
Whether you meet in person or over the phone, one of your main objectives should be to create a genuine connection with the person. Get to know them on a human level and let them see the human side of you as well.
Another one of your main objectives is to inspire the person to help you land your next job. You want to make a memorable impression so your contacts will be enthusiastic about helping you now and in the future. To meet this objective, sell yourself in these meetings just as if they were actual job interviews. Discuss your credentials, professional experience and skills so your contacts understand how well-suited you are for the job you’re seeking. Having a clear understanding of what a strong candidate you are will motivate them to open the right doors for you.
If you feel nervous about doing the interviews, start with some easy ones. Schedule your first few meetings with individuals who don’t intimidate you. This is a low-risk way to get comfortable with the process and build your confidence.
Next, I’ll walk you through how to identify contacts to interview and the questions you should ask in the meetings.
How to Identify Contacts to Interview
When we discuss informational interviews, many of my clients are hesitant at first. They shy away from the idea and claim they don’t have any associates to network with. This is rarely the case. I bet if you put some thought into it, you’d come up with an impressive list of people. Furthermore, the beauty of informational interviews is that each person you meet with will refer you to additional contacts. Thus, your list will expand quite rapidly.
The first step is to go through your list of contacts in your existing network. It is highly likely your new job will come from your old network. Don’t underestimate the power of reaching out to those you already know. These people are already aware of your top skills, valuable strengths and the integrity you bring to your work. Former work colleagues make especially excellent contacts because they can attest to the quality of your work performance. Also, professional associations and alumni groups can be a rich source of quality contacts. So can vendors that buy from or sell to your company, service providers you use, volunteer organizations you’re involved with and of course, family members.
If you’re like most people, you probably have your contacts’ information stored in various places. This often includes a stack of business cards, electronic information stored on your computer – and (of course!) a pile of random scraps of paper. Job one is to organize your contact information so it all “lives” in one location. Choose whatever system is optimal for you. For most people, this involves entering the information into one electronic system. It may be your smartphone, a contacts database, Microsoft Outlook program or other tracking system.
The next step is to organize the list into categories. I suggest you break it down into two sections. Section number one is comprised of the individuals who have a strong sphere of influence. These are well-connected individuals and are a resource of valuable information and contacts. They can point you in the right direction and open the right doors for your job search. They do not necessarily have to be working in your target field. They simply have to be well-connected and professionally savvy. You will send each of these “high value target” contacts a personalized email requesting an informational interview. Two sample “high value target” emails appear in the next section under step two.
The second section of your contacts list is comprised of everyone else in your database. Although you won’t be requesting a one-on-one meeting with these associates, you will be sending them a “general inquiry” email. This “general inquiry” list will receive an email in which you describe your current job search situation and ask for their recommendations of people in the field. Even though these people may not be able to personally open the right doors for you, they most certainly may know influential people you should talk to. A sample “general inquiry” email appears in the next section under step two.
Once you’ve organized your list of current contacts, make sure you have invited each person to your LinkedIn network (or other professional social media sites you use). For more on how to use LinkedIn, see the “Top Ten List” section of this module.
Now that you’ve gotten your current contacts organized, the next step is to
decide whether or not you need to widen your networking circle. If you’d like to so do, (and it probably is a good idea) – here are a few methods for uncovering additional promising contacts.
Your college alumni directory and conducting internet research on your career field are great ways to find people to talk to. Joining professional associations in your target industry and attending their events and conferences is also an excellent means of making high-quality connections for your career transition. LinkedIn is a rich resource for this as well. Finally, reading the professional trade journals in your chosen field is also a good way to identify people to do networking interviews with. Subscribe to the trade journals in your target industry. As you find additional contacts, assign each person to either your “high-value targets” or “general inquiry” list.
Now let’s take a moment to pause and check in with how you’re feeling. Many people feel intimidated at this point. They feel anxiety and wonder what their associates will think of them and whether they will stumble and fumble through the meetings. It’s natural to feel this way. Accept these fears for what they are and give yourself permission to feel them. Again, a great strategy for managing these fears is to do your first few informational interviews with the people that intimidate you the least. That way, you’ll get the jitters out of the way as you increase your comfort level with this form of networking.
Questions You Should Ask
Now, let’s talk about the questions you should ask in the informational interviews.
Always come prepared with a list of questions. It is important you present yourself as organized and demonstrate you’re thoroughly prepared for the meeting. Don’t pose your questions until the meeting is well under way. But rather, wait until you have built rapport, given a broad brush overview your current situation and described your target job.
In this section, you’ll find two lists of sample informational interview questions.
I provide two lists because there are two types of informational interviews. The first type is for the purpose of landing a job you already have defined. Under this circumstance, you meet with people who work in your target field to ask their advice, inquire about job openings and request additional contacts to speak to.
The second type of informational interview is for the purposes of exploring a career field you may potentially be interested in transitioning into. In this situation, you meet with individuals who currently work in the industry you’d like to know more about. This Land Your Ultimate Job program is for people who already know the specific type job they want. However, for the sake of completeness, I include both sets of questions here.
Pick and choose from both lists to create the right mix of questions for your situation. Of course, add your own customized questions as well. Tailor your questions to each individual based on their background and experience. There may not be a lot of time in the meeting so designate the top five questions you’d like to ask. That way, you’ll enter each discussion with a clear idea of your priorities and desired outcomes. Also, when posing the questions, make it conversational and show curiosity rather than presenting them in a quiz-like or “gotcha” fashion.
To make it easier for the person you’re meeting with to focus on your questions, provide them a written list. Create a networking meeting “one-pager” for each informational interview. This one-page document will include your elevator speech, your top ten employers list and your list of interview questions. Hand this over at the beginning of your face-to-face meetings. Also, email it to each contact ahead of time. They may or may not have time to review it prior to the meeting, but at least afford them that opportunity
Sample Informational Interview Questions
When You Already Know the Type of Job You Want:
What has been your career path thus far?
How did you get started?
How did you get where you are today?
What type of work experience did you have prior to landing your current position?
How did you land your current job?
If you were in my situation, how would you go about getting where I want to go?
What are the most sought-after skills and leadership qualities in this industry?
What are the main concerns, needs and problems of my target hiring managers in this field?
What is your recommendation on how to leverage my current skill set and experience into the position I would like within this field?
Do you know of any companies that fit the type of organization I want to work for?
Are you aware of any current job openings in my target field?
Do you know of any consulting or free-lance opportunities I could pursue in the interim as a means to gain experience?
Do you know anyone who was in my current field and transitioned into your industry? If so, would it be possible to speak with them?
Do you have any recommendations on my resume to help me land my target position?
Can you recommend at least one other person that would be helpful for me to talk to about my career search?
Are there any additional resources you’d like to suggest?
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Is there anything I can do to support you? (offering to return the favor is always a nice touch)
Sample Informational Interview Questions
When Exploring a Potential Career Field:
Ask for an overview of the industry.
What’s good about it?
What’s not good about it right now?
Where do you see this industry heading in the future?
What is it like to work here?
Can you describe your responsibilities?
What is a typical day like for you?
Overall, what do you like/don’t like about this profession?
Can you describe the skills and leadership qualities of a successful person in this profession?
What are the main concerns, needs and problems of the decision-makers in this field?
What are the good organizations to work for in this field?
What is the typical career path at an organization like yours?
Where do people usually go from here – either within the organization or outside the organization?
Which of my transferable skills should I highlight in my cover letters, resumes and interviews?
Do you have any recommendations on my resume to help me transition into this field?
Can you recommend at least one other person I can talk with to learn more about this industry?
Are there any additional resources you’d like to suggest?
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Is there anything I can do to support you? (offering to return the favor is always a nice touch
The list of questions you pose should always include your “ask.” Your “ask” is when you share with your contact how they can help you. Prior to each meeting, identify the main things you would like that particular contact to do for you. For the majority of these meetings, your objectives will be the same. Most likely, you will be asking each contact for:
- Suggestions on potential employers
- Information on current job leads
- The names of additional contacts to speak to – Describe the type of people you’d like to be put you in touch with
- Feedback on your resume
- Any other resources they’d like to suggest
Making the direct “ask” can be difficult. Do not let your tendency to be “nice” take over. Practice what you will say ahead of time, so you’ll be confident when the time comes. Do not let yourself back out! After all, this is why you have gone through all the trouble of scheduling these meetings!
Towards the end of the interview, always be sure to ask them for suggestions of individuals you can interview next. This is the best way to learn of more contacts and expand your networking circle. By no means are you obligated to follow-up with each person you’re referred to. After each meeting, you can evaluate the list of names you’ve been given and decide who it would be best to get in touch with.
Do request permission to use your contact’s name when reaching out to the people they’ve referred you to. That way, their referrals will be much more likely to respond to your request for a meeting.
Networking is simply connecting with people on a human level. It is a natural and necessary part of being a successful professional. Therefore, you’ll find most people will be gracious with their time and quite willing to help. All you need to do is give them a chance.
So, get out there and launch your networking program! You’ll be glad you did. Don’t miss this opportunity to forge richly satisfying personal connections. The rewards you receive will extend far beyond the professional realm.
If you feel you’d like assistance with developing your strategic power networking strategy, I invite you to schedule a one-on-one coaching session with me.
Click here to schedule your personal coaching session.
Now, let’s move on to your Career Success Guide to Selling Yourself in the Interview.