Effective conversations build relationships, which open doors for your career
The summer is here.
Historically – according to an article published on Careersidekick – applying for jobs in June, July and August can be tough. The main reasons are that hiring managers are more prone to take vacations and it is often difficult to assemble a full hiring team to make decisions on candidates.
This is not great news for job seekers. The job search process can get drawn out, you get radio silence on your applications, and patience starts to run thin as you are in dire need of finding work.
However, what we’ve found is that the summer months are great for conducting informational interviews. Hiring managers are more agreeable to meet for a cup of coffee, workloads tend to be less overwhelming and the weather is usually cooperative. As a job seeker, this is a rich opportunity to develop and nurture relationships with your desired companies.
The challenge is how do you make the most out of an informational interview after you’ve secured one? Below we reveal our best approach for doing so.
Step 1. Prepare an Agenda
Do not walk into the informational interview unprepared. Spend time learning all you can about the company, its competitors and overall performance. Use all available resources including blogs, website, news articles, and social media presence. Create a list of focused questions that you can’t necessarily get answers to from your research. Finally, research the person you will connect with and find one to two things that you genuinely like about that person. Emphasis on genuine. This is going to be essential for building rapport.
Step 2. Set an Intention Just Before the Conversation
Before you get on the call or meet for coffee, take 1-2 minutes setting an intention for the conversation. You could visualize having a lively, engaging and insightful discussion. You could also picture the person you are about to speak with inviting you to his or her company to meet the rest of the team. Whatever outcome you want to achieve from the conversation, spend some time imagining that it is already done. The fact is that you want to go into this conversation with an energy of curiosity, confidence and sincere connection so condition it beforehand.
Step 3. Frame the Conversation
Once you’ve connected to your contact either in person or by phone, spend some time building genuine rapport. This step is the most important step of the informational interview because the person needs to trust and be emotionally connected to you before they decide if they want to be of any help to you. Do not skip this step or move on until you feel like you have genuine rapport. Use the one or two things you liked about this person as basis for building rapport.
After you’ve built rapport, then you can move on to frame the conversation. This is getting upfront about why you want to have this conversation and include any parameters you want to focus on. Framing your informational interview conversation may sound like this: ‘Tammy, I want to be respectful of our time today. In the next 30 minutes I’d like to do these three things: learn more about XYZ company, your experience there, and then I will share a little about my career. And then, at the end of our conversation, I’d like for us to exchange connections. Sound fair?’
Be genuine about why you are having the conversation. Once you are done framing your call, start with a broad open-ended question that gets your contact to start talking. This could be: ‘What is it like working at XYZ company after X number of years?’
Step 4. Use the 90/10 Rule
The 90/10 rule of the informational interview is to spend about 10% of the time asking questions and talking about yourself. The other 90% of the time is spent listening. Listening is the most powerful skill you can bring to the informational interview. It helps you to develop influence with the other person, build connection, and it makes asking in-the-moment questions more natural because you are present. Listen at an intuitive level. Focus on what is being said, but also how the person is saying what they are sharing, the body language they are using, and connecting to the things that they might not be saying.
Step 5. Uncover as Much as You Can
The goal is to learn as much as you can about both the individual and the company. Ask poignant and relevant questions that elicit key information you want to find out. Your questions should flow naturally and move from broad to more specific. Ask questions based on what the person has said in the moment. You want to use your prepared questions as a general structure for your conversation, not as all the questions you ask. These questions should be reserved only for when there is an awkward lull in the conversation, and you might be out of options about what to ask.
Step 6. Pivot to Talking About Your Career Toward the Middle of the Conversation
Toward the middle of the conversation, there will be a break that allows you to shift the focus to you and your career. As you make this shift, focus on your career and not your job search. If you are speaking to someone in a decision-making capacity, you may want to find out from him or her how you can strengthen your candidacy or competitiveness for the company in question.
If you are speaking to a peer, explore how they made it into that company and ask about any suggestions they might have for you.
Step 7. Wrap the Conversation Up with a Call to Action
We recommend ending the conversation within the requested time frame you suggested. If you are at the end of the agreed-to time, check in with your contact to see if he or she is fine with going a couple of extra minutes. End by expressing gratitude for their time and a brief recap of what you’ve learned. This shows that you paid attention. Then, have some actionable next steps in mind. Perhaps you might ask if there is someone else whom they think you should talk to and if they are open to making an introduction. Ask this only if you’ve built a strong rapport and relationship throughout the informational interview. Otherwise, you can ask the person’s permission to stay in touch and the best way to do that. Finally, ask how you may be of help to them.
While there might be a lull in hiring over the summer, this is a great time to develop and nurture relationships with companies you admire. Use the informational interviewing process to get this started. Follow the outlined structure of preparing before the interview, building rapport, listening deeply and pivoting the conversation to focus on your career rather than your job search toward the middle of the conversation. End the conversation with a call to action.