The Minimalist Guide to Informational Interviews

A review of The 20-Minute Networking Meeting, by Marcia Ballinger and Nathan A. Perez

What’s the best way to find a job? Some people still believe there’s only one approach: spot an opening on a job site, write a brief email with a resume attached, and hit the send button.

We all know someone who has found a great job like this. The problem is that most positions–estimates put the figure as high as 80%–are never advertised and instead get filled by word of mouth.

Many job seekers struggle with cracking this invisible job market. Most of us understand we need to network with colleagues, friends and family in a job search but we’re not sure how to do it well.

The 20-Minute Networking Meeting, by executive recruiters Marcia Ballinger and Nathan A. Perez, solves this problem. It gives job seekers a short, practical guide for tapping your professional and personal networks to uncover and land the so-called hidden jobs.

Networking skills matter most

Who you know matters when job hunting, say the authors, but networking skills matter most of all. Everybody needs to know how to set up, run and follow up on informational interviews. Properly done, these conversations can produce valuable intelligence, new contacts, and champions for your job search.

It’s the rare job seeker today who hasn’t heard about the value of informational interviews. The authors say the problem is that most networking conversations are “not well planned, well run, or even meaningful.”

“Networking meetings don’t have to be complicated,” say Ballinger and Perez. “They have a beginning, middle and an end.”  The authors believe a successful meeting can be done in 20 minutes and always has five parts.

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The five parts of an efficient networking meeting

The most valuable part of The 20-Minute Networking Meeting is the precise roadmap the authors provide for executing a short but power-packed informational interview.

Here are the five steps they recommend:

1. Make a good impression (three minutes)

Be respectful to support staff, have good eye contact and a firm handshake, and say thank you right away. Highlight common connections and stick to a simple agenda: 20 minutes to give a brief overview of your background and ask a few questions. Remember, you asked for the meeting and it’s your responsibility to manage it.

2. Tell your story (one minute)

Describe who you are and what you’ve done.  Your purpose is not to share your complete resume. Instead, help your listener understand what you do so that they can suggest contacts or remember you when a job opening comes up.

3. Engage your listener (12 – 15 minutes)

Never ask for information you can read on a company website or a LinkedIn profile. Doing so says you didn’t prepare. Have three questions ready that will give you specific knowledge you want to learn from the person you’re meeting. Ask for recommendations of others to contact as well as how you can help the person you’re seeing.

4. Wrap it up (two minutes)

End the meeting on time by reviewing the actions you each agreed to take. Make a brief, positive goodbye – and above all – express your gratitude.

5. Stay in touch

Send a thank-you note within 24 hours. Look for ways to remain in contact, such as forwarding relevant articles or links, sharing news about mutual contacts, or letting people know when you’ve found work.

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The 20-Minute Networking Meeting has detailed instructions and exercises for carrying out each of the parts of a model informational interview. There are also real world examples of good (and not so good) networking meetings the authors have participated in.

Readers searching for a magic decoder ring to the world of networking will be well served by this excellent book.

I’m always looking for new books about job-hunting and career management. If there was a book that was particularly helpful to you, please let me know at mac@macslist.org