If you’re looking to find the right job, simply sending out resumes and hoping for an interview might leave you wondering what you’re doing wrong. Statistics show that only one out of every 200 resumes leads to a job offer. But there is a secret weapon that is known to result in a job offer one out of every 12 times: the informational interview.

The informational interview is one of the most powerful yet overlooked strategies to find the right job – and land it. Author Richard N. Bolles coined the term in his best-selling career guide, What Color Is Your Parachute? He describes informational interviews as “trying on jobs to see if they fit you.”

Chicago career coach informational interviews tap into hidden job marketIn a job interview, the goal is to obtain a job; by contrast, the purpose of an informational interview is to gain real-world information by talking to people already working in your field of interest – either a prospective employer, manager or someone currently employed in a job you are interested in. It may seem counterintuitive, but it’s a great way to find the right job and connect with a prospective employer on a meaningful, one-on-one basis without actually having to ask for a job.

What’s in it for you? Informational interviews will help you find the right job by allowing you to:

  • Gather inside information about a particular industry, job and/or company
  • Expand your network of contacts
  • Learn about internships, practicum experiences and positions in the “hidden job market” (see below)
  • Gain exposure to the terminology and issues of a particular field or industry
  • Get a glimpse into different types of organizational cultures
  • Develop awareness of potential employers’ needs and values
  • Refine your interviewing skills in a less stressful setting
  • Assess whether a particular industry, job or company is right for you

The Hidden Job Market

Did you know that as many as 95 percent of jobs are not even advertised? Many great jobs are never broadcast to the general public, but that doesn’t mean you can’t break into this hidden market.

Conventional wisdom says the best way to get those unlisted jobs is to network, but if you are networking with the wrong people, you are wasting valuable time and energy. Instead of general networking, it’s much better to find people who are currently working in the field or industry you are interested in exploring, and talk to them about possible opportunities. The right job could be hiding in this “secret” or “closed” job market, and an informational interview can help you find it.

You Are the Interviewer

When requesting an interview, be sure to explain that you are only asking for 15 to 20 minutes of the person’s time (although he or she may offer more once the session starts) and make it clear that you are not looking for a job – only information.

Atlanta career coaching use of informational interviews to access jobsIn an informational interview, you ask the questions, so it’s critical to come prepared. Research the field, the industry and the company in order to be knowledgeable and make a good impression (Google and LinkedIn are great resources for background information, as are professional organizations and industry associations).

Some sample questions include:

  • How did you get started in this profession?
  • What is the most satisfying aspect of your job? What is the most frustrating aspect?
  • What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
  • What are the current issues in the field and what trends do you see in the next few years?
  • Is the turnover high in this line of work? Is there room for advancement?
  • Is there an area or organization in the industry that is in high-growth mode?

Dress and present yourself in a professional manner, and keep to the 15- to 20-minute time limit unless the other person offers to extend the interview.

If you make a good impression, behave professionally, respect the person’s time, come prepared and ask great questions, there might be opportunities to stay in touch or follow up. The interviewee might also offer to provide referrals, introductions, strategies, industry insights, interview leads and, yes, perhaps even a job.

How might you be able to use informational interviews to find the right job?

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