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How to Make Contacts When You are Shifting Careers

Ever heard of an “Informational Interview?”

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We aren’t the loyal worker bees that we used to be in America. It is becoming increasingly more rare to find the employee who dedicates their entire career to one company. In fact, the average length of time people are staying in jobs is about 5 years, according to career sites and consultant reports.

That means a lot of people are either moving companies, or possibly changing industries or careers altogether. This shift away from the known means entering the battle for jobs without the comfortable rolodex of names.

Permit me to introduce the idea of the Informational Interview, Job Seekers.

What is an Informational Interview?

An Informational Interview is a meeting with a person who has the job that you think you want. Your main goal in that interview is to find out if the job you think you want would actually be a good fit for you. A side benefit is that you can make new connections in fields where you don’t know a soul.

If you decide the job is not a good fit for you, that is a successful interview. If you end up making a contact that leads to a job offer in your desired new industry that is a WIN! That has happened to me, but it is the rare case, not the norm.

Your Only Limitation is Time

Make sure to dream big as you set up these interviews. What has always sounded like your dream job? What job just sounds like fun? What job has a paycheck that sounds appealing? You can literally investigate anything your heart desires. Your only limitation is how much free time you have.

There was a point in my career when I knew I wanted to shift industries. I was working at it in my spare time, but I wanted to focus on it more, so I took an entire vacation week to do informational interviews. I even got on a plane for some!

How Does an Informational Interview Work?

  1. You find a job description and title in an industry that sounds interesting to you.
  2. You do some googling or hunting around on LinkedIn until you find a person who has that title in that industry.
  3. You call or message that person, depending on the information you have available to to you, requesting 30 minutes of their time for an informational interview.
  4. You write a list of questions to direct the interview. Examples: What was your career path to your current position? What drew you to this industry and this job? Do you find what you do fulfilling?
  5. You do a little research about the person you are meeting. Some of your questions could be answered on LinkedIn. Show them that you have done your homework. What can they tell you that websites can’t?
  6. You show up to the interview with a treat (cupcakes, bagels, etc.) to thank them for their time.
  7. You proceed to pick their brain with your well-thought out list of questions. This interview is about THEM not YOU. You want to understand if this job would be a fit for you.
  8. You thank them for their time, making sure to leave them a means to contact you. If it turns out that another role came up in conversation that sounds more interesting, don’t hesitate to ask them to introduce you to colleagues.
  9. You send a thank you email or handwritten note, depending on the contact information they gave you (and perhaps how legible your handwriting is), complete with your contact information again.

What if it Doesn’t Work?

I am not going to lie, sometimes these interviews are rough. Maybe you don’t click with the person you are interviewing. Maybe you find something out about the job or the company that makes you want to head for the hills. It’s ok! Keep at it!

Remember, this is a fact finding mission for you. Don’t assume you are going to get a job with every company you sit down with. You may be fantastic, but they don’t know that yet. In my experience, about 50% of the interviews I did were bummers.

Also, expect that people are going to be a little weirded out by the idea at first. It’s your job to make them feel comfortable. The treats help. The well-thought out questions help. The constant reassurance that you are seeking information about careers to consider ultimately gets through to the hesitant ones.

Here’s the Punchline

One Informational Interview can save you YEARS of toiling away in an industry or a career that you thought would be a perfect fit. This is the shortcut to the top to see if your dream job is all you think it will be. You literally have nothing to lose by employing this tactic and EVERYTHING to gain.