We all know that only a fraction of available jobs are ever advertised on job boards or the newspaper classifieds. But how do you tap this hidden job market?
The answer is simple. You need to talk to people. Lots of people. Particularly people outside of your existing network of friends, family and colleagues.
Networking is a crucial to a job search for a couple of reasons:
- It helps you get known in your professional field. Employers hire people they know and trust. Candidates with an pre-existing relationship with the employer–however weak the connection might be–always have an inside edge.
- Hidden jobs are promoted primarily through word-of-mouth. When employers hire, they reach out to their network for referred candidates. You only hear about these positions if you’re talking to people in your field.
Informational interviews: The key to job search networking
Networking is the single best thing you can do to improve your the outcome of your job search. And the best way to network is through informational interviews.
Informational interviews are short, focused conversations with professionals working in your field of interest. They aren’t about asking for a job. Rather, they are about introducing yourself, stating your interests and collecting insider information that will help you advance your search.
I’ve done hundreds of informational interviews over the years both as a job seeker and as an employer. From both sides of the table, I’ve seen how powerful a well-executed informational interview can be.
Tips for conducting an informational interview
I’ll be honest… I learned most of my informational interviewing skills through trial and error. I made a lot of mistakes early in my career. I was only able to perfect my interviewing skills through practice.
I don’t want you to make the mistakes I did. So here are six informational interview tips I wish I knew when I started my very first job search.
1. Know why you’re there
The purpose of an informational interview is not to ask for a job. You’ve asked for the appointment in order to learn about a profession, introduce yourself, uncover opportunities, and grow your network.
2. Be clear about what you want
Sometimes job seekers tell me they can’t rule out any possibility. “I don’t want to limit my choices,” they say. However, if you don’t have a goal, (i.e., “I’m exploring entry-level opportunities with digital marketing firms here in Oregon”), you make it impossible for people to help you.
3. Make an ask
The people you see expect you to ask for help. Here are the two requests I always make as a job seeker and I expect to hear as an employer:
Have you heard of any current or upcoming opportunities that match my goals and skills?
Can you recommend two or three other people that I could talk with about our field?
4. Send a thank you note
Yes, I’ve written before about the importance of thank you notes, but I can’t emphasize it enough. You need to do this within 24 hours of the meeting. It’s not just good manners. It reinforces the positive impression you made and reminds people that you’re out there. Handwritten cards are nice, but email is acceptable, too. Just send the note.
5. Stay in touch
It’s smart–and expected–to check in occasionally with the people you meet. An easy way to do this is to send a quick email after you meet someone they recommended. I also suggest connecting via LinkedIn.
6. Tell people where you land
Once you find your job, write everyone you saw a final thank you note with the good news and your new contact information. The people who helped you will feel pride in your success. You’ll find that every city is really a small town, particularly among peers in your industry. You will keep running into the same people in your field again and again in the years ahead.