The world’s most popular job-hunting book turns 40 this year. What Color is Your Parachute has inspired and supported generations of job hunters. One of the terms Richard Nelson Bolles coined in his seminal book is informational interview. An information interview is a meeting a job seeker schedules to ask for career or industry information, rather than interview for a specific position.
Forty years ago the best and perhaps only way to learn about an industry was to talk with an insider. In the nonprofit sector this was certainly true. Understanding the skills, attributes or experience necessary to step on the first rung of a nonprofit career path was difficult. There was no Google, social network or real-time access to information. Printed materials were dated, hard to find or nonexistent.
Access to information has changed dramatically in recent decades. What Color is Your Parachute acknowledges the rapidly changing career landscape by publishing a new addition each year. Lately, I have been wondering if some people who call me are still reading the 1972 edition!
Specifically, job seekers seem to be unaware that information on any job in any industry is abundantly and easily accessible. Today, information is also readily available on the professional credentials of anyone you might identify as a resource for your specific job hunt. In the ’70s, ‘80s and perhaps even the ‘90s, it was often challenging to identify the right resources and arrive for information interviews with precisely honed questions. Not anymore, so what are the updated rules to make an information interview effective?
Research, research, research
Your resource is a professional who is giving you the gift of time; use it well. Do your homework, research the industry and prepare thoughtful questions that explore information not readily available online. Then research the people who are likely to have the information you need so you pick resources sparingly. Each session with a resource may require hours of research and thoughtful preparation.
Want to switch from a for-profit to a nonprofit job? First, undertake comprehensive research on local nonprofits and the information available on this type of career transition. Trying to better understand the skills and attributes necessary to advance in the fundraising profession? A Google search will net over eight million hits, the Association of Fundraising Professionals showing up first. Want to relocate to another part of the country? Research real estate, cost of living and the job market before you start booking appointments. Nothing is worse than realizing the person you are doing a favor for has not done his/her homework! Poor preparation is not an asset in building your network.
Don’t waste time on the wrong people
Since the beginning of the year, I have been contacted at least once a week (sometimes once a day) by someone who wants to schedule a face-to-face meeting for an information interview. Often they start with the statement, “I have had coffee with 50 people and person X said I should call you.” If you have had coffee with 50 people and still do not have the information you need, perhaps resource selection is a problem so return to research. If you have had coffee with 50 people and still do not have a job, perhaps you were not really doing information interviews. Or perhaps 50 people are telling you things you do not want to hear?
Be a sponge
Information interviewing is about learning new things and exploring new options. Are you open to hearing new ideas, insights and information? If you are interested in finding a job or making a career change, it’s important to listen to all the feedback, not just that information you want to hear.
Most busy professionals are truly interested in attracting new talent to their field and talking about what they do. Time is a precious commodity; use it well.