How to Use Your Network to Get Informational Interviews, with Kate Gremillion

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Transcript

Mac Prichard:

Hi, this is Mac from Mac’s List. Before we start the show, I want to let you know about my new book, Land Your Dream Job Anywhere. I’ve been helping job seekers find meaningful, well-paying work since 2001, and now I’ve put all my best advice into one easy-to-use guide.

My book shows you how to make your resume stand out in a stack of applications, where you can find the hidden jobs that never get posted, and what you need to do to ace your next job interview. Get the first chapter now for free. Visit MacsList.org/anywhere.

This is Find Your Dream Job; the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life. I’m Mac Prichard, your host, and publisher of Mac’s List. I’m joined by my co-hosts, Ben Forstag, Becky Thomas, and Jessica Black.

This week we’re talking about how to use your network to get informational interviews.

You probably know you need to do informational interviews when job hunting. But you may struggle with finding people to ask.

Our guest expert this week is Kate Gremillion. She says we all have people in our networks that can help us.

The trick to finding them, says Kate, is understanding your networks and asking the right questions. She and I talk in the second half of the show.

When you’re ready to ask someone for an informational interview you’ll probably do so by email. The subject line you use can make the difference between a quick answer and no response at all.

Ben has found a list of great subject lines for your informational interview requests. He will tell us more about it shortly.

You’re ready to switch careers, and you know that recruiters turn to LinkedIn when looking for job candidates. How do you redo your LinkedIn profile to reflect your new interests without drawing the attention of your current employer? That’s our question of the week. It comes from listener Stephen Waldron of Salem, Massachusetts. Becky offers her advice in a moment.

As always, let’s first check in with the Mac’s List team.

Our topic this week is how to find people in our networks for informational interviews. So Becky, Jessica, Ben, how do you recommend people start to approach others about informational interviews?

Becky Thomas:

Sure, I’ll start. I think that a lot of times people will sort of consider the people that they want to talk to in a certain company, or in a certain industry, and we actually just put a blog up on Mac’s List a couple days ago that was about sort of unlikely folks to approach. I think sometimes we don’t approach people that are already in our network, people who we may be close to but don’t talk about careers with, and you never know who is in someone else’s network. So I honestly find that it’s really helpful and insightful to talk to people who are right around you about your career and what you hope to do. A lot of times those folks have other folks that they would sort of point you to and recommend that you talk to next. I’ve always had a lot of success just growing that network organically; you talk to one person and they recommend two other people that you talk to and it sort of grows from there. So that’s one thing that I have found to be really helpful in my career. So, that’s a thought.

Mac Prichard:

Good suggestions. How about you Jessica, what thoughts come to mind when you think about people who you could identify or reach out to for informational interviews?

Jessica Black:

Mine is kind of similar in that, mine grows usually in an organic process, where it’s just…as we’ve talked about on this podcast, I’m very curious by nature, and I often just like to talk to people about what kind of jobs they have and learn more about what exactly it is people do that I interact with on a daily basis. Even if I’m not necessarily looking to go into that industry or career path, I’m still just really curious, and so sometimes it just happens. It’s an accidental type of informational interview where I’m just gathering information. Then also with all of the, I call them, extracurricular activities that I am involved in, it grows the network organically that way. That I’m able to talk to a lot of people that I wouldn’t normally think to seek out.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, I’m glad you brought that up. In fact, you mentioned that too, Becky. I think sometimes people get stuck about who to contact because they’re not sure what they want to explore. And to your point, Jessica, if you’re curious about a certain occupation then I think it gets easier to identify the people who do that work, then easier to ask. Because you know what you want to get out of that conversation.

Jessica Black:

It is, and when you don’t know it’s nice to just start talking to people and then you sometimes discover it by just that information gathering session that you may never have considered…some sort of industry, we’ll say architecture, but you happened to talk to someone and you just discover there’s a really interesting facet to that industry that you didn’t really realize was there and that may be a perfect match for you.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah, and when you have that extracurricular connection with a person, you’re just that much more connected and it’s that much more exciting when you have a professional connection. That really solidifies that network relationship too. So I think it’s awesome.

Jessica Black:

Absolutely. Yeah, and I agree, it’s a lot easier, you don’t have to do that cold email, which I think is the scariest and most intimidating…I don’t know about scary, but intimidating part of it.

Becky Thomas:

It’s just, I think it’s much more effective when you have that personal connection already, like when it’s a  cold email you’re just not going to get as many responses, so. I think that’s a great way to approach it.

Jessica Black:

Yeah. What about you Ben?

Ben Forstag:

Yeah, my rule of thumb is find the people who are doing what you want to be doing and talk to them, and I think a lot of people are afraid to do that because they think they’ll be seen as competition but I’ve found that professionals are usually very open to sharing their time and their thoughts, and rarely does this, “I’m training my replacement” mentality actually happen.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, well my big go to sources when I’m looking for people for informational interviews are LinkedIn, and Alumni databases. I’m a big fan of both. I’m always surprised by how rarely many people use LinkedIn to sort either by a geographic area, or company that interests them. I rarely run across people who are tapping into Alumni databases, and most of us and our listeners have gone to college or community college or university, and there is a ready made network of people who want to help.

Jessica Black:

I’m a big fan of using LinkedIn as well. It’s a good way to, again sort of explore new industries and see…you can use the search function, and put in…you know, maybe you have a dream job in mind and you can sort of search for that and look at what  people are doing, and gather some information about what types of job descriptions there are out there, and then see who your connections are that you have in common.

Mac Prichard:

Well good. Well those are great suggestions. I know we will get some more from Kate when we talk to her later in the show.

Before we have that interview, let’s turn to you, Ben, because you’re out there every week looking around the internet for our listeners trying to find books, tools, and websites people can use in their job search and career. So what have you uncovered for us this week?

Ben Forstag:

So this week I want to share a resource I found on one of my favorite job search sites which is the Muse, and this has got a very long title and it is, ‘Here are the subject lines that will get your networking emails opened every time’.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, so this is back to Becky’s point about cold emails and getting people to actually respond.

Ben Forstag:

Yeah, how to make them a little bit more effective. So the deciding factor for getting  a professional to agree to meet with you is typically time. That’s not just true for the meeting itself which can take twenty to sixty minutes, but also true when we’re talking about initially getting that person’s attention with an email.

So it sounds silly, but today people are stretched pretty thin. And when a new email shows up in your inbox, we’re often making very quick decisions about whether to open it now or wait until later. And I’m sure you all know what happens when an email gets put in the “later” category…

Mac Prichard:

I’m guessing your research that you’re about to cite is going to show that they go unanswered?

Ben Forstag:

Yeah, I mean, they get forgotten about, and go unanswered.

So when you’re reaching out to a professional contact and asking for an informational interview, there’s a really high premium on capturing their attention right away. With email, that starts with having a killer subject line–something that makes the reader want to open the email and respond.

So this week’s resource is a list of really good subject lines, based on the relationship you have with that contact.

The key here is to be strategic in how you use that subject line, depending on who you’re writing to. It’s not really a one-size-fits-all strategy.

So for example, when you’re writing to someone who you were referred to by a mutual contact, you might want to name drop that person in the subject line. Saying something like, “I was referred by Mac Pritchard to discuss jobs in Portland.” That way the person can say, “Oh I know Mac, I’ll open this up and read that.”

Or if you’re writing to someone in your desired industry who you don’t know, you might say something like  “Aspiring communications professional looking for advice from the best.” Flattery always works.

So this blog from the Muse has about a dozen different examples of subject lines you can use in different situations that are all pretty good. I’d suggest you check it out. Again, it’s from the Muse, and the blog post is called, ‘Here are the subject lines that will get your networking emails opened every time.’ And as always we’ll have the url in the shownotes.

Mac Prichard:

Well great. Well thank you, Ben. One I always react to is if somebody just says, “So-and-so sent me.” I pay attention to the name in the subject line it’s short it’s to the point, and it gets people’s attention.

Well good. Well if you’ve got a suggestion for Ben, please write him, and we may share your idea on the show. His address is ben@macslist.org.

Now let’s turn to you, our listeners and Becky joins us to answer one of your questions. So Becky, what’s in that mailbag this week?

Becky Thomas:

Alright, so this week’s question comes from listener Stephen Waldron in Salem, Massachusetts, and he sent it via email so I’m going to read it out. So he says,

“From all the advice I’ve heard, it seems like having a great LinkedIn profile is important for job seekers. It’s crucial to brand yourself as someone in the field you want to work in. But if you’re looking to change careers, it could be awkward and detrimental to your current job if all of a sudden your public LinkedIn profile presents you as someone interested in a different field than you are currently in. Any advice on how to present yourself as invested in the field you are looking to move into without prematurely burning bridges where you currently get your paycheck?”

So this is a tricky one, Steven. Thanks for sending it in. I think that’s probably a common thing for career changers or folks who are looking to enter new industries. You’re absolutely right, your LinkedIn profile can help you land a new job. Definitely if you’ve applied for a job, recruiters and those hiring managers are going to check out your LinkedIn if they’re considering you.

So one piece of advice I would give is to use LinkedIn to rebrand yourself slowly and sort of in phases; don’t recreate it but start to tweak it in strategic ways. So some that I had found, and I came up with some ideas too.

So the first thing I would do is to turn off your profile update notifications, so colleagues won’t see that you’re changing things up. Then try adjusting your profile headline, so that main descriptor below your name, that comes up when people search for you. Highlight your transferable skills there, rather than just your current position and industry. People are getting really creative with these headlines and you can use some keywords that will help show what you’re good at and what you want to be doing. Some folks will also list multiple interests within that headline, so this is a key for recruiters who are searching for specific keywords, or certain types of professionals. That way you pop up within those industry searches without being totally out of the blue sort of changing things up.

Then in your summary section on LinkedIn, you can highlight the work you are currently doing that reflects best for your career target. So if you’re needing to be really secretive you can also use that summary section to describe your interests in this new field and what you’ve been learning, studying, working on, to gear up for your career change. If that’s okay to sort of focus on that and your current employer won’t be too weirded out.

So it definitely depends on the situation, but I think there are some small things that you can start to do to still pop up and show that you’re interested in that new field. Anyone else have thoughts?

Jessica Black:

Yeah. No that was all really excellent advice so it’s going to be…I don’t have a lot to add to you, but I would just reiterate finding the threads of what’s common and what the transferrable skills type of a…piece of advice. It’s likely not going to be as much of a huge pivot as you think it is because even if it’s a completely different industry, you’ll still have some things that you’ve been doing in this new industry can be highlighted. It can be slowly evolved. Which I think that’s all really great advice that you gave.

Ben Forstag:

In so far as we’re talking about hiding it from your employer, I think the number one is make sure you turn off those profile change notifications. That way when you make a change, it’s not being alerted to your entire network. I think the truth of the matter is, unless your boss is Mac Prichard, it’s unlikely they’re looking at your LinkedIn profile very often.

Mac Prichard:

That’s how I begin my day at home. I check your profiles, each of you.

Ben Forstag:

I can see when you’re looking at my profile.

So yeah, you know, there’s always a risk there, but I think the rewards far outweigh the risk and I’d also say that most employers have some sense that their employees are going to move on at some point. You never want to burn the bridge, you never want to have one foot out the door already, but if your boss happens to see your Linkedin profile looks a little bit different there, I don’t think it’s going to be like a world breaking shock to them or anything. These things happen, people move around.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, and there are people who use LinkedIn everyday. I may be the only one around the table today.

Jessica Black:

I use it most days.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, I think I see you on there too, Jessica.

Jessica Black:

Yeah.

Mac Prichard:

But I bring that up because for Steven, and he may already know this, but Linkedin is a publishing platform and so if you have a habit of visiting LinkedIn maybe five days a week, or during the workweek, and sharing news about your company, or your interests, and people aren’t going to be surprised to see your page gradually change over time. In a sense it’s another example of Poe’sPurloined Letter; you’re just hiding in plain sight, because people will be accustomed to seeing some activity on your page. I certainly can imagine if LinkedIn had been around in the large public organizations where I worked in the 90’s where you had coworkers who paid careful attention to your calendar, or other online documents, I can see where Steven’s concern is coming from. So one way to manage that is just be a regular contributor to LinkedIn whether you’re sharing news about your employer, or the things that are of interest to people in your field. Then, nobody updates their LinkedIn profile overnight, it usually takes weeks, even a few months, and if you combine that with online publishing, probably most people won’t notice.

Jessica Black:

Yeah, and I would actually also add that if there’s opportunities, I don’t know obviously what organization you work for, or what your employer relationship is, but if there are opportunities to be able to have conversations during your reviews or things like that that if your employer is receptive to contributing to some professional development, those types of thing. If you have those conversations with your current employer about your goals for the future, they may actually be really receptive to helping you meet those goals and being able to point you into, like I said, professional development opportunities that utilize the existing skills and role that you’re in now but then to set you up for the career change that you’re looking to move into. So you know, I don’t think that necessarily you have to have this sort of stealth, covert operation of keeping it super secret unless…again, I don’t know your employer relationship. I think that there are always opportunities to be able to talk about that with your employer, or with your network. Maybe in informational interviews or something to tie it all back. But  yeah, keep talking about that and good luck with that.

Becky Thomas:

Yeah, he’s on the right track for sure.

Mac Prichard:

Great, well thank you, Becky, and thank you, Steven.

If you have a question, please send her an email. Her address is becky@macslist.org. You can also call our listener line, area code, 716-JOB-TALK. Or tweet at us. Our twitter handle is @macs_list.

If we use your question on the show, we’ll send you a copy of Land Your Dream Job Anywhere and we’re dropping Steven’s copy in the mail this week.

We’ll be back in a moment. When we return, I’ll talk with this week’s guest expert, Kate Gremillion, about how to use your network to get informational interviews.

Most people struggle with job hunting. The reason is simple; most of us learns the nuts and bolts of looking for work by trial and error. That’s why I produce this podcast, to help you master the skills you need to find a great job. It’s also why I wrote my new book, Land Your Dream Job Anywhere. For fifteen years at Mac’s List, I’ve helped people in Portland, Oregon find meaningful, well-paying, and rewarding jobs that they love. Now I’ve put all of my job hunting secrets in one book that can help you no matter where you live.

You’ll learn how to get clear about your career goals, find hidden jobs that never get posted, and ace your next job interview. For more information, and to download the first chapter for free, visit Mac’sList.org/anywhere.

Now let’s turn to this week’s guest expert, Kate Gremillion.

Kate Gremillion is the Founder & CEO of Mavenly + Co. Her firm offers group workshops, corporate training courses and coaching programs. These services give young women the tools, resources, and mindset they need to create careers and lifestyles with purpose

Kate also hosts the weekly podcast, Women, Work, and WorthAnd her advice has been featured in publications like ForbesFortuneBusiness Insider, and Her Agenda.

She joins us today from New Orleans. 

Kate, thanks for being on the show.

Kate Gremillion:

Mac, thank you so much for having me. I’m happy to be here.

Mac Prichard:

It’s a pleasure to have you.

Now our topic this week, Kate, as you know, is using networks to get informational interviews. Kate, why do some people struggle with this? Often, when I talk to job seekers about the value of informational interviews, they say, “Well gosh, I just don’t know anyone to reach out to.”

Kate Gremillion:

Yeah, absolutely. I think people struggle with this because we really see the job hunt or the job application process as something that happens in a really formal way. So we go on job boards and we apply for jobs, or we go to LinkedIn and we message someone at the company we’re interested in. So I think people really struggle, because this is kind of a new way of approaching networking and informational interviews and getting jobs that I think we’re not used to. But if I do say so myself, it is by far the best and most beneficial way. I think as humans we’re natural relators and we want to have conversations about the things we’ll be doing everyday and learn information about something before we commit to doing it for a job full time.

So I think informational interviews are tough to come by because they’re new and it’s a different way of looking at networking and it’s a different way of interviewing for jobs. But I think genuine interest is the best way to approach anything and I think that’s why it’s the most valuable. I think people struggle because it’s not the norm, it’s not typical, but the people that do it are the people that win in the space for sure.

Mac Prichard:

Well what kinds of questions should job seekers ask themselves to find the right people for informational interviews, Kate?

Kate Gremillion:

Yeah, great question. So I like to put networks in two categories. So you have your strong ties and you have your weak ties. Your strong ties are people that you’ve probably reached out to already if you’ve networked. These are people that you have immediately think of as business connections. These are people that you know you know you either worked with, or you went to school with, they were professors, or bosses. Those are your strong ties, you know those people pretty well.

I think what people are missing out on when they’re thinking about informational interviews are their weak ties. So the people that you’re connected to in a strong way, they’re also connected to people that by nature of being connected to your strong ties, you are also connected to. So I think when we’re thinking about informational interviews, we need to think about our weak ties, or people that are maybe two degrees, three degrees, separated from us, or that we maybe traditionally wouldn’t think of as a professional connection.

I know everyone single one of the jobs I got before I started Mavenly, was through someone that I would have never have said was a professional connection. They were maybe a family friend, or they were a friend of someone I worked with, one of them was even a friend of my boyfriend at the time. So if I would have limited myself to only my strong professional networks then I would have missed out on these work opportunities and not had informational interviews or conversations with people that were what I call weak ties, or people that I wouldn’t traditionally think of as within my professional network.

Mac Prichard:

Why can people who are what you’re describing as weak ties, that are two or three degrees removed from us, why can they be so valuable in a job search? That almost seems counterintuitive. I can imagine listeners saying, “Well gosh somebody who doesn’t know me, why would they want to help me, and why would they even make time to see me?”

Kate Gremillion:

Yeah, great question. I do think it’s our human nature to want to help people. You’ll be surprised at how many people you reach out to actually genuinely want to help. It feels good to help other people; that’s why philanthropy exists. So I do think weak ties, if you reach out, there’s probably, at least, a fifty fifty chance that they will say yes and they will want to meet with you. The reason weak ties are so valuable is because if you’ve already had a job or you’ve already been looking for a job, you’ve probably tapped out your strong ties so you probably know the opportunities available to you in your strong ties.

So I actually have a client that I’m working with who wants to work in the entertainment industry in California. But she lives in Louisiana, so in order to work with people in California when she’s only lived in Louisiana, she’s going to have to tap into some weak ties. So maybe one of her friends has a roommate that previously lived in with her in Louisiana but now lives in California. There’s people that are around you that you feel comfortable with that are in your strong professional group, but they don’t have the connections you need to make the real career advancements you want to make.

So what I say is, sometimes it’s not who you know, but it’s who they know. So looking at LinkedIn, this is how I use LinkedIn, but what I’ll do is I’ll find my strong network and then who are they connected to? Those people are my weak ties, and there might be an introduction to be made via that strong tie. But it’s someone that’s going to be better suited to give me the information I need and actually has the connection that I want to make. Maybe my strong ties don’t have the connections to the career I actually want and instead of saying, “Okay well I’ll just settle for the career that my strong ties can connect me to.” Really push yourself to reach out to those weak ties because that’s where the real opportunities can be. Kind of outside of your comfort zone, or outside of the current network you have, because the network you had of course, for anyone, is limited.

Mac Prichard:

I love what you’re saying. Let’s talk about practical first steps. You’re ready to take the plunge and approach people in your network. Who are the best first people to approach, Kate?

Kate Gremillion:

Yeah, great question. So what I’ll typically do if I’m looking to approach some weak ties and maybe I don’t even know who those weak ties are, I start with my strong ties and the question I ask them is, “Knowing my interests, and knowing what I want to be doing in my career, who would you suggest I speak with? Who would you suggest I talk to?” Because people previously, they don’t know that you’re looking for a job or job hunting or wanting to talk to other people, they’re not going to naturally suggest other people. So what I recommend is asking your strong ties, asking the people you’re already connected to that you’ve had these conversations with, and say, “Knowing what you know about me, who should I talk to next?” This is the best way to continue to expand your network and to reach out to some of those weak ties because naturally that person will start going through their rolodex, and saying, “Oh wait, maybe I can connect her to this person and that person and this other person based on the interests she has.”

Then the great thing is you can continue to ask that conversation of these weak ties, you can get continued connections and network feedback by asking this simple question. Then the great thing is, that person can either offer an introduction and offer to introduce you, but sometimes what I’ll do if a person’s time is really limited, or I know they’re very busy, is say, “I’m happy to write the introduction for you, all you’ll have to do is copy and paste and introduce me to that ‘weak tie’” So what I’ll say is, okay, you know, an email afterwards to that strong connection saying, “Thank you so much. I would love to be connected to John Smith. Here’s a sample email you can draft to John Smith about me, that might make a stronger introduction.” Not only are you taking the pressure off of that person to write something wonderful about you, but you can actually write something wonderful about yourself exactly the way you want to write it. Nothing is worse than being introduced to someone in a way that isn’t flattering to you, and so when you’re in control of that, when you write that message you’re taking pressure off that person to write it, and you have total control over how you’ll be introduced to that connection.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, I love the fact, well two things here; one, that you used the word Rolodex. As someone who’s fifty-eight, I don’t hear that much anymore. Sometimes if I by mistake mention it people will get this sort of glazed look over their eyes.

Kate Gremillion:

The millennials are all confused right now.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah. The second thing though is I love the fact that you’re getting into the how to do this, and I want to back up a little bit and talk a little more about the who. Which is, I can imagine people saying, “Okay, I need to start with my strong ties. I might look on LinkedIn.” Let’s just take people through how they might build the list of the first five or ten contacts they reach out to for an informational interview. What’s your quick and best advice about how to do that?

Kate Gremillion:

Yeah, absolutely. I tell people first, what I would think introspectively is, “What type of opportunities am I looking for?” Mac, do you feel that your listeners…they have an understanding of the type of job they’re already looking for, or they’re just looking to get information about what they might even be looking for?

Mac Prichard:

I think people fall into two groups and it is a great question. One, people know where they want to go or they have an interest in a company or nonprofit, or another organization. Then I think the second group are people who aren’t sure what they want to do next but they’ve got two or three ideas that they want to explore. So they either have a short list of dream companies or nonprofits, or they think, “I’m interested in this, this, and this but I’m not quite sure how to get started.”

Kate Gremillion:

Yeah, absolutely. So if you are in the group where maybe you know what companies you want to be working for and you’re looking for informational interviews, that is a time where I would look on LinkedIn and the first people I would connect with are people that are connected to those people that either work at that company or have some influence at that company. So when you’re making that list, see who is connected to someone that works there. The easy way to do that on LinkedIn is to search the company name and it will tell you who your connections are or second degree connections that work there.

But for someone who, you know, is maybe you’re interested in a field but wants to get some more information on it, I think that social networks or actual real networks…I think it’s so funny how we limit ourselves to social network…but we’re going to parties and class, and things everyday where we can genuinely connect with people. So what I think what I would do in that case is just talk to the people around me, and let people know what you’re interested in and what you enjoy and what you’re looking for, and it’ll be so astonishing to you how much people are willing to suggest connections to you.

So I think when you’re making that short list the first thing to do if you have no idea where to start, is to tell the people around you. Maybe it’s your mom, your dad, your roommate, your sibling, tell them what you’re looking for, and ask who you should be connected to. You know there are people that the people around us know that we don’t even know that we should be connected to, so I would start with people super close to you, the people you see everyday. No one is off limits, everyone you come in contact with is in your network and the more people who know what you’re looking for the better you’ll be at crafting that list and actually chatting with people about who you should be speaking with.

So I think the natural first step if you don’t know where to start is anyone you come in contact with today, for the rest of the day, tell them what you’re looking for and ask them if they know someone who can connect you to that type of field or industry.

Mac Prichard:

So it’s great advice, and once you build that list, and you already started to talk about this, what is the best way, once you have the shortlist of five or ten people, to begin to reach out? I mean, you have the meeting, and you’re going to ask for introductions to others, what’s the best way to get the meeting, Kate, and then to follow up afterwards?

Kate Gremillion:

Yeah, I think the most important thing that people oftentimes overlook, or don’t focus on when they’re reaching out to someone is making the connection about how you’re connected to that person and then why you’re reaching out. My least favorite thing is when I see people emailing and saying, “Hey, just wanted to grab coffee,” or “Hey, just wanted to pick your brain.” That is the worst way to email someone about one of these opportunities because if it’s someone that you want to be connecting with, they’re probably busy, they probably have a lot on their plate, and they want to know that their time is being spent wisely. So what I recommend is saying, one, first, how you’re connected, so,  “I’m Sally Sue’s friend. I also worked at this company, I’m an alumnus of the same university.” So they have some point of reference, for how to put you in their network.

Then say exactly what you’re looking for. “I’m looking to get more information about this type of career path and I’d like to ask you questions about the application process.” Then that person can come prepared to that informational interview and they also know that their time is being valued, and it’s not going to be wasted because you know exactly the questions you want to ask. I think it can be really frustrating for people to have others in their network reach out to them and ask to grab coffee and then you sit down and you ask, you know, how you can help them, or what type of things they’d like to talk about, and they have no idea. I really recommend making sure you let people know why you’re connecting with them upfront, and then if you can, obviously sitting down in person is great, but offering to do it on their terms. So if a call is best, if a walk around the park is best, if coffee is best, letting them pick the preferences for how they want to connect I think is also really important.

Then saying in that same vein, knowing what you would say if that person said, “How can I help you?” is incredibly important. So it’s also frustrating when that person takes the time to help you, they ask how they can help you, and then you have no way to do that. So before you go into an informational interview have a list of three to five things for next steps for ideally how that conversation or interaction would go because I think the way people feel most valued in their network is when people follow up on that interaction or have something that person can do for them, that they are able to act on within twenty-four hours.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, I love your emphasis on walking into the meeting with a specific request or ask for the person you’re meeting with. My experience has been that people, and you said this at the beginning, Kate, people do want to help others and the easier we can make it for people to help us when we’re doing informational interviews, the more likely they are to say yes, and the happier they’re going to feel about the meeting.

Kate Gremillion:

Absolutely, no question. I think the mentors and the mentees that have the best relationships are when the mentors are able to see that the mentee is really taking their advice to heart and is really acting on the advice they gave them because they know, like I said, it’s valued. Their information and their time, and their contribution is valued and ultimately that is what we all want to feel, is that our time and our efforts are valued.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, any other mistakes you see people make in asking for informational interviews or identifying potential people for these meetings that you’d like to share?

Kate Gremillion:

Absolutely, I think the biggest mistake anyone can makes in conversation is speaking before they listen. So find out, if you’re sitting down with someone, find out what their passion points are, find out what they’re interested in, find out what they would like to talk about because ultimately and Maya Angelou said it best, people aren’t going to remember what you said, or what you did, but they’ll remember how you made them feel. People’s favorite topic is themselves. So for the first ten, fifteen minutes of any informational interview, ask people questions about themselves. Get to know that person because you might spend the whole time rambling about yourself and your goals, and all they’re thinking is, “Man not only do I not have advice on this particular thing, or they have a misunderstanding of what I do, but they’re not even taking the time to think about how I might be able to truly help them or what my strengths are, my skills are.”

So I think the best advice and something that many people overlook is that they want to speak and share because they called for the meeting or conversation, or the interview, they feel they need to lay all of their cards on the table up front. But I really advise people to ask questions, take an interest in the other person before you start talking or before you start asking for things. Because ultimately you’ll get more information that way, and after all, this is an informational interview so you’re there to learn and to gain insight. So I think a really important thing to keep in mind is that you should always be listening before you’re sharing because then you can inform your own answers and then you actually gain more knowledge and that person walks away thinking that you truly cared about what they were able to offer in that conversation.

Mac Prichard:

Great. Well great advice, Kate. Now tell us, what’s coming up next for you?

Kate Gremillion:

Yeah, great question, so, we just rolled out a program, it’s called Crafting Your Career and an element of that is informational interviews, but basically what we do is in a six week process, we work with individuals to make sure that they’re able to create the career that they truly love. So it’s an individualized program, it’s six weeks. We do it either via Skype, or Google Hangout, if we happen to be in the same city, we do it in person. But we walk through your ideal career path with you and how to make it tangible, how to actually make it real. So that’s the next thing on the horizon for us, and hopefully if you’re interested you’ll check it out.

Mac Prichard:

Well we’ll be sure to include a link to that, of course, in the shownotes. I know people can also find you on the web, at www.mavenly.co and I also encourage people to check out your podcast, that you publish every week, and it’s Women Work, and Worth, and it’s a great show, I’ve looked into it a number of times. You’re doing great stuff there.

Kate Gremillion:

Awesome. Thank you, Mac. I’ve looked into you as well, and we love your content.

Mac Prichard:

Well great, well thank you, Kate, and take care.

Kate Gremillion:

Thank you so much.

Mac Prichard:

Alright, we’re back in the Mac’s List studio, with the team here. Becky, Jessica, Ben, what were your thoughts about my conversation with Kate?

Jessica Black:

Well I thought is was an excellent conversation. She had a lot of really great points that I enjoyed several of them. But I liked really, her last point resonated the most with me and I think kind of the biggest takeaway to remember and to reiterate of the listening as much as you share, or maybe even more than you share. I think we all are in a zone where we think that adding value is by speaking and by contributing but oftentimes you get a lot more from listening and I know we’ve talked about this a lot of times. Informational interviews are a really great way to build relationships, not only to gain information about the industry that you want to work in or if it’s the right fit for you, or how to break into that industry. Which all of those things are important things to get from the informational interviews but it’s also really important to not have it be transactional and not have it be, “I’m here for this, and what can you give to me to be able to get what I need?” But to build that relationship and to have it be more of a two way street, and an equal, reciprocal relationship that can last for a long time, and can be really beneficial to both parties for a really long time.

I really liked her points about having actual conversations and learning about the person that you are speaking with about what their interests are as well. To be able to have those more authentic and heartfelt conversations can turn into longer lasting, really nice relationships. So I think that’s really important.

Mac Prichard:

Great. Yeah, there’s so much we can learn from others and you’re right about starting relationships, if you stay in that field or profession, can continue for decades. Becky, what were your thoughts?

Becky Thomas:

Yeah, I agree with what Jessica was saying too. I think that while you want to be super curious with the person that you’re interviewing, you need to be succinct about yourself and clear about your goal, and I think that Kate mentioned that as well.

I really like the tactic that she shared earlier in your discussion about LinkedIn, and searching for those second degree folks, that you have a strong first degree connection, connecting the two of you, and even writing email content for your first degree connection to do that email introduction. Those email introductions are always great. I think that usually there’s a great return on those. My experience is that if you have a mutual friend they’re much more likely to respond. So I think that’s a great tactic to go above and beyond and make it really easy for your existing network to connect you with others.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, I think those personal introductions always matter and if you can’t get people to do them because they’re so busy, or have such a senior position, being able to ask if you can use their name.

Becky Thomas:

Name drop and do that. Blank sent me.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, that can be helpful too. Ben?

Ben Forstag:

I think you can never overestimate the power of weak connections that we have with people. So many times when I talk to job seekers they say like, “Oh I just don’t know anyone” or “I’ve talked to everyone I know already.” And we’re talking there about the first connections or the strong connections that we have. But when you think about networking as a building out that network every meeting isn’t an end in and of itself, it’s like a step to the next piece of like, who else can I talk to? Like, when you start reaching out to those weak connections, they themselves might not have a whole lot of things that they can tell you about your specific career journey, but it’s like who they know that’s the important thing.

So constantly going after those weak connections to just keep building out from there because the truth is we really don’t know much about what other people do for a living. Like, I couldn’t tell you what my uncle does for a living. I have a vague sense that he’s in sales, but I don’t know what he sells, or who he knows. So reaching out to people like that, you could find out a whole lot of good leads from that conversation right there.

If you play that out over all the people you’ve ever met at a party, or passed on the street, or are in a bowling league with, that’s a huge number of people and a huge amount of opportunities that are there, right in front of you.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, somehow we’ve gotten through a thirty minute plus show talking about connections and degrees without mentioning Kevin Bacon.

Becky Thomas:

Oh wow, missed opportunity.

Jessica Black:

Yeah.

Mac Prichard:

But your point is spot on, Ben, and what I loved about Kate’s content, and she had a lot of good ideas, but what really stood out for me was when she said, “Talk to family and friends first, that’s where you begin.” Because they will know people that you would just never occur to reach out to, and it works the same in politics too. I had, before starting this company and Prichard Communications, a life in electoral politics, and every campaign, whether it’s big statewide race or a small school board contest, begins with the candidate and her family and friends around a kitchen table, and it grows from there, and the people who are really good at tapping their networks, they can be just somebody running for a school board, are typically the people who win. But start with the people who know you best.

Becky Thomas:

Absolutely.

Mac Prichard:

Good, well thank you all, and thank you, Kate, for joining us, and thank you all, our listeners for downloading today’s episode of Find Your Dream Job.

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Informational interviews are a fairly new strategy in the search for a new career. The application process and job searches of the past were more formal endeavors. As a job seeker, this new adaptation gives you more networking opportunities than were available before.

But how do you get informational interviews?

Consider your existing network and divide it into two categories:

  • Your strong ties — People you immediately think of as business connections.
  • Your weak ties — People who are separated from you by a few degrees. Friends of friends, for example, can become a great career resource.

This week’s guest, Kate Gremillion, recommends asking your strong ties this question: “Knowing my interests and knowing what I want to be doing in my career, who would you suggest I speak with?” She says people genuinely enjoy helping other people, so this is a great place to start.

Checking LinkedIn connections of people who have influence at a company you want to work for is another great tip. These “weak” ties can turn into strong connections if you approach them in a professional manner.

This Week’s Guest

Kate Gremillion is Founder & CEO of Mavenly + Co. Her firm offers group workshops, corporate training courses, and coaching programs. These services give young women the tools, resources and mindset they need to create careers and lifestyles with purpose.

Kate also hosts the weekly podcast, Women, Work, and Worth. And her advice has been featured in publications like Forbes, Fortune, Business Insider, and HerAgenda. In her new program, Crafting Your Career, Kate works with clients to make their ideal career path a reality.

Resources from this Episode