By: Team Ruckus, Willamette University Atkinson School MBA for Professionals Program
If you read the above title and thought, “I have not even thought about my next job,” this is your wake up call. In competitive employment markets, you need to actively manage your career trajectory or you will be left behind, and fast. Being smart or technically superior is no longer enough to make your mark in today’s business.
In previous generations, the length of employment in an single industry was an indicator of experience, loyalty and dedication. In today’s employment market, it is often seen as stagnation in a career as your experiential learning wanes. Leaders do take notice to career trajectory when evaluating the benefits of potential hires and internal promotions. Working in the same job for more than 3-4 years discourages your further growth. The good news; you can break the cycle and change your career trajectory starting today.
In the recent article, Eight Career Skills You Need to be Competitive in 2016, by Stephanie Vozza, published in Fast Company Magazine, the author points out you should diversify your mix of hard and soft skills to maximize your career advancement. The article suggests that enhancing your global mindset and managing among diverse cultures and within diverse environments will prove to be of significant value to show adaptability in your work. A willingness to learn and seek opportunities paired with strong, agile communication skills are vital for you employer to envision you in positions of higher authority. Finally, your ability to delegate work that can be handled by others not only improves your time management, but also encourages the growth mentality among your staff. These skills in combination will show your true leadership potential and your readiness to take on the next business challenge.
In today’s business organizations, these skills will help to differentiate you among all those vying for the job. Do you have what it takes to meet the needs of your next job? Are you ready?
Informational interviews, “informationals,” informational networking – whatever you call it, it’s a must! No matter where you’re looking for a job – it could be within your current industry, in a new field, or even within your current organization – networking is where it’s at. Informational interviews are an easy, low pressure networking opportunity to turn the tables on an interview. It’s your chance to flip the script and interview the company, while getting your name and face in front of folks who will be hiring.
How many times have you heard, “it’s all about who you know,” to land a job? Well, it’s true. You’re much more likely to land your next job because you know someone at the company than you are by being just another piece of paper on the stack of resumes. Getting to know people, networking, takes some time and work, but the payoff can mean landing your dream job. So I encourage you to start pounding the pavement and setting up some informational interviews. Here’s how:
Step 1 – The Set Up.
No one likes to cold call (or “cold email”), so if you know someone at a company you’re interested in, start with that person. Either set up an information interview with them or ask them to connect you with someone else. It’s human nature to help others, so all you have to do is ask and I practically guarantee you’ll get a “yes” for an informational interview. Also, people love to tell others what they know, so take advantage of this common human idiosyncrasy to get your foot in the door!
Other tips for setting up your first informational interview –
Be a student. If you’re in school, in a certificate program, or just taking a class here and there, play up the “student card.” Or, if you recently graduated, say that. If it’s been a while and you can’t claim to be a student anymore, then I recommend coming at it from a “learning” standpoint. As in, “I’d love to learn more about Company X or the field of Y.” Again, people like to give other people advice and share what they know, so let them know you’re a student and/or looking to learn more, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how gracious people are with their time.
Don’t say you’re looking for a job. It’s obviously implied. Information interviews are most effective when they are casual, low pressure, and about learning. This is your chance to find out about the company in a relaxed environment. I’ve found it can make people uncomfortable if you come right out and ask for a job, especially when the proposition was for “learning.” So save the “ask” for another time or take a different tactic (see questions below).
Keep it cool. Suggest some times that work for you or ask when they are available in the next week or so. Meet for coffee or even at the office. I don’t recommend meeting over drinks for various reasons. If you do meet someone at their office, make sure to ask for a quick tour. Generally, 30-45 minutes is a good amount of time to expect for an informational interview. It’s quick, engaging, and you should be able to glean a lot of information if you ask the right questions.
Example information interview email:
I received your contact information from Sarah at ABC Corp. She recommended I speak with you because I’m studying biology at STU and would like to learn more about a career in marine science. Do you have some time next week to meet for coffee? I’d really like to hear about your career path and what it takes to succeed in the field of sea horse genetics.
Step 2 – Come prepared.
Whether you’re familiar or not with the company where the informational interviewee works, at the very least, review the company website to get the gist of what they do. Think about how that industry fits with your interests. Why are you interested in this company? What seems appealing about it? Know yourself and what your strengths and skills are. An informational interview is mostly an opportunity to learn, but it’s also a chance to talk up your skills and career goals and how they align with the company.
Tips for keeping the conversation humming –
Bring a list of 6-10 questions to ask.
Please describe your role at [name of company].
Can you describe the career path that brought you where you are?
How would you describe the culture at [company]?
What is your favorite part of working here?
How is employee development and growth fostered?
How do decisions get made at [name of company]?
As [company] grows, are there opportunities you can think of for someone with my skill set?
If you meet at the office, be sure to ask for a quick tour and if there’s anyone there you can talk to.
Other industry specific questions.
Keep things casual, so go ahead an ask questions as the conversation evolves organically.
Bring something to write on and write with. You never know when you’ll hear something you need to jot down or remind yourself of later.
Keep it positive. This is a general rule whether it’s a formal interview or an informal informational interview. Even if you’re looking to leave your current company because things are terrible, find the silver lining and highlight what you have to offer or how you would like to grow. It can suck the life out of the room quickly if it seems like you’re complaining or bashing. So find the positive spin on things and keep the conversation light!
Keep them talking. Psychology tells, the more people talk about themselves, the more they like you! So all the more reason to come prepared with questions.
Step 3 – Ask for more.
As you’re wrapping things up, some good closing questions to ask are:
Are there professional associations you recommend I join?
I’m fine-tuning my resume, would you mind taking a quick look at it? (Definitely bring your resume!)
It’s been great talking to you and I’d love to learn more, is there anyone else here [at Company X] you recommend I speak with?
Do you know anyone at [another company] that I should speak with?
Step 4 – Say “Thank you.”
In the digital age, I don’t think it’s necessary to send a thank you card. It may even come across as a bit too much. So, just like you would for a “real” interview, send the person you met with a short email, preferably within 24-48 hours, to let them know how much you appreciated their time and mention something memorable you spoke about or learned.
You’re now on your way to finding the company that’s the right fit for you. Good luck and happy informational interviewing!
Now that you’re an informational interview-ing expert, be sure to brush up on your Influencing Skills so you can get the most out of people, from your boss to bestie.
We’ve all been there. You hate your job, you give notice, but in the spirit of not burning all of your bridges you stay on a week or two before you are actually done. What can you do to survive the few last days??? Here are a few tips:
Surf the Internet! Now is not the time to focus on why exactly you are leaving your job (though you certainly have your reasons), and the whole point of staying for a week or two was to maintain your positive image with the company. So stay distracted and surf the Internet a lot! Catch up on current events like presidential elections and the Olympics. Do all that on-line shopping you were meaning to. Find funny articles to tell your co-workers about, which leads us to….
Network with soon-to-be former colleagues. This can range from lunches cementing ties, to taking one last stab at building connections, to stopping by people’s desks to chat. Who knows when you will need to reach out to people for information, a job a their new company, or just to say hello. Sure management might see it as wasting the time of employees who are not leaving, but you are just reinforcing your impression of a wonderful person who just happens to be leaving the company.
Re-brand your image on social media. Howcast made a great tutorial on how clean up your Facebook profile for potential employers:
Now is the perfect time to take all of those pictures of you drinking in collage off your Facebook page! Or at least lock that down, and beef up your LinkedIn profile. Potential employers are going to be Googling your name and taking notes on how you present yourself to the world. So take some time to think through how you want to be seen. For more tips on re-branding yourself see this article on the Huffington Post. All of your deep thoughts about re-branding your image will naturally lead to…
Plan your career. Most people are reactive to their careers, accepting the first job offer that comes along. Not you! Now is the time to create a long-term plan career plan and execute it. Maybe you have wanted to get further education, like an MBA degree, to help your career. Or you know where you want to be in 10 years, and it is miles away from where you are now. These last couple of weeks are the perfect time to dream big, and start thinking how you can accomplish your goals.
Do some actual work. I know, it sucks. But you still have to do your job to maintain the positive perceptions of those around you. Your intent was to be professional, so make sure you are passing along information, training other employees on tasks only you know, and (generally) being a good employee. It may be like pulling teeth in the last days at your job. But a good reference from former employers who have worked with you is worth its weight in gold. So do the smart thing and get some work done!