Informational Interviews: A Case Study of Networking Success, Part 1

May 27, 2020 | Job Search, Networking

Part I: Why You Need This Competitive Edge

Have you received an invite to a Networking Event and wondered why you would attend something like that? Have you attended a conference and were told to “network” but not sure how or why?

In this two-part series, we’ll examine how one client, Clay R. (name changed for privacy), jumped all over our suggestions about networking his way into opportunities by asking people for “informational interviews.” Not only did Clay’s efforts generate results that surprised him, but they also set an example that is worth other folks modeling for their own search efforts.

In Part 1 of this series, we discuss why any serious and driven job seeker ought to incorporate these processes into their efforts. Part 2 delves into how Clay has ignited his search by embracing this methodology, looking at some of the specific tasks and tactics he undertook to turn up the heat.

Let’s look at why you might need to try some new methods. The challenge in any job search is how to set yourself apart from everyone else against whom you are competing in a crowded marketplace. 

From our perspective, a job search is, in effect, a marketing campaign. 

A fundamental concept of marketing is differentiation; that is, defining and promoting the product in such a way as to create the impression in the minds of your audience that your product is different and better. In the case of a job search, obviously, the product is you. So, the task is to make you stand out from the rest of the crowd. You need to maximize your appeal.

A big issue here is that most of us do a rather poor job at this. We tend to follow the so-called conventional wisdom, making our resumes and other communications look like everyone else’s and following the same practices that we’ve been told through handed-down “wisdom.”  Sound familiar?  Chances are it does. Let’s test this.

Are you relying primarily on answering help wanted ads and online job postings to find your next position? Are you networking primarily with people you already know? Are you hoping that someone at one of those firms to which you have applied will notice you, and magically reach out to you? Are you waiting for results from all those online applications you’ve made? How’s that working out for you? Are you getting frustrated?

If you are like most folks, you might be answering, “Yes, that’s what I’m doing and yes, I am getting frustrated.”

What’s the problem here? Let’s break it down a bit, focusing on several of the more important challenges. 

Issue 1: Over reliance on simply answering ads and online postings. 

When you reply to a job ad, chances are that you are one of many people doing the same thing. You can be part of the proverbial faceless cast of hundreds or thousands. The odds are stacked against any single candidate when the number of competitors, as it often does, reaches this scale. 

A field of candidates numbering 100, 500, 1,000 or more applicants is invariably screened and scaled to a more manageable subset by lower level screeners and often with the help of so-called applicant tracking software (ATS) systems using tools like keyword searches. The process at this stage is almost completely impersonal and necessarily often fails to take into consideration the fine-grained nuances that might truly differentiate one candidate from the next.

If you get through this phase of the process and get moved to the stage of initial phone screens, phone, then face-to-face interviews with decision makers and hiring managers, needless to say your chances improve with each step as the hiring company filters out more and more candidates. 

The fundamental issue here is getting past this stage where a great number of applicants are swept away like dust.

Issue 2: Over reliance on one’s own existing network. 

There is nothing wrong with leveraging your network to the hilt, but the reality is that many positions are filled because someone knows someone else already and thereby has great advantage over candidates who lack those connections. The problem lies with cultivating our network, not in our networking effectiveness. In other words, the issue is that they can run out of connections rather quickly and their existing contacts might not have enough or even any linkage to the right opportunities. Related to this is that there are only so many times that you can put the touch on a small circle of people before you exhaust them and turn yourself from a valued connection into a nuisance and a pest. Similarly, even having myriad network contacts and warm relations with those people in no way ensures that any of those folks will have a conduit to the opportunities you are hoping to find.

There are plenty of other reasons that one ought to move beyond the limitations of relying solely or primarily on the old ways of conducting a search. We could go on at length about these, but rather than spill more ink on the problems, let’s shift to introducing the solutions that we will explore in greater depth in Part II of this series.

The ECP Approach for Clay:

We recommended that Clay continuously try to expand his network by introducing himself to new people. With an impending major merger at his current employer, we saw an upcoming important industry conference as the perfect stage. 

The conference was a golden opportunity to rekindle relationships with as many existing contacts as possible, as well as a chance to casually introduce himself to anyone at the conference who could be a valued relation in the future. 

Clay was nervous, asking the questions many of our readers might have: How will people react? Will they consider me pushy? Will this be a turnoff? Will I be ignored or rejected?

The reality is that no matter how well you do this, some of the new people to whom you introduce yourself in such a setting will not morph into the kinds of relationships you hope to build. Indeed, some folks will ignore or reject you. However, as we told Clay, nothing ventured, nothing gained. If you don’t take the risk of being ignored or rejected then it is certain that you will add zero new contacts. We also told him, quite pointedly, that many people find the attention that comes from an introduction to be flattering.

The Result?

Clay attended the conference with a stack of business cards, shook lots of hands, had many brief introductory conversations and asked lots of people if they could talk in private after the conference. And, much to his surprise, while not everyone reacted with the open-armed welcome he’d hoped for, the vast majority of people were receptive.

Next steps? 

Obviously, if any of Clay’s new contacts were aware of an opportunity currently in play at their companies that he might fit, Clay asked how to get into the competition. But what of the folks who were receptive but said, “I’m not sure we have anything right now.” This is a critical aspect of the networking game where most of us fall down. In Clay’s case, we suggested that he invite people he met to have an informational interview with him after the conference.

We’ll wrap up this portion of the series here. To preview Part 2, we’ll be examining how Clay set up and leveraged those opportunities for informational interviews from connections he made at the conference AND how he replicated that process after the conference using his Rolodex AND LinkedIn to make dozens of additional new connections for the same purpose. 

Tune in for Part 2, as Clay told us recently, “I’ve really surprised myself with how many people wanted to meet me and were willing to talk…. I’m very confident that several of these conversations are going to result in job offers. I’m also convinced that my search would have stalled had I not taken a chance on this.”

Wondering how you can increase your network, or looking for similar support and knowledge as Clay? ECP has a team of highly training professionals waiting to help you Get Hired Faster! Contact us today!