While it is difficult to identify the original source for this statistic, it has often been said that approximately 80% of all jobs filled are done so in what is known as the “hidden” or “unpublished” job market. These are jobs typically landed through word-of-mouth and referrals as opposed to the hit-or-miss method of answering ads, posting your resume to internet databases, or other techniques meant to target the remaining 20% of all jobs in the published market.
To open the door to this hidden job market, we’ve also been told, networking is the most essential key.
In my work as a professional resume writer and career coach, I have found this statistic to be true and this advice to be sound. Yes, networking! Networking is a key part of most successful job searches. Unfortunately, the thought of networking leaves many people feeling nervous and unsure. For an introverted or shy person, the idea of networking can even cause serious anxiety and fear. When I mention networking to a client, the most common response is to tell me how much they hate networking, how bad they are at it, and how they would rather do anything but.
In this article, I’d like to share with you a new perspective–one that is common sense, but that you may never have thought of before and that has the potential to dramatically change your next job search for the better: At it’s core, networking is research. When you start out, it will be helpful to think of networking as a research project. As such, don’t be afraid to reach out to decision-makers and people “in the know” within companies and industries of interest to you. These are quality contacts. Explain your career plans and ask them if they would spend 15 minutes talking to you and answering some questions. Most people will be flattered and say yes. When you do get in front of them, NEVER ask for a job, but DO ask for advice and referrals.
If the above sounds familiar to you, it is because these meetings at which you are gathering information and asking for advice and referrals are traditionally known as informational interviews.
That’s right! Informational interviewing. This is a technique that is frequently recommended to those just starting out in a new career, but I am recommending informational interviewing as an extraordinarily effective technique for people in all phases and stages of their career, from new graduates to seasoned executives.
Here are some tips to get you started with informational interviewing:
- Begin by making a comprehensive list of experts and decision-makers in the field or industry of interest to you. Remember that your purpose is to gather information and advice, and most people will be flattered that you included them on your list of people “in the know,” so don’t be afraid to reach high. Be creative in tracking these people down–you don’t need to come up with the whole list on your own. Ask friends, relatives, people you went to college with, contacts you have made in your community, doctors, and the salespeople you come into contact with if they have suggestions for people you should talk to. Talk to current (if appropriate) and past co-workers, clients, and suppliers. Make it clear that you don’t expect anyone to know of an open job; that you are simply looking for information and advice. At the end of the process you should have a list of professionals in your industry or profession; people who can tell you about what is going on in the field, help you better understand the competitive landscape, describe for you what it is like to work in the field, and ideally point you in the right direction for the next person you may want to speak with.
- Send a letter if introduction to each person on your list. If you were referred, mention the referrer by name. Otherwise, briefly introduce yourself and explain your purpose, explain that you are reaching out to them because of your interest in their field and your respect of their work (a little genuine flattery works wonders, but don’t go overboard), and then ask if you could arrange a time for a 10 or 15 minute meeting at their convenience so that you can ask a few questions. Again, make it clear that you are simply seeking advice and information–not a job offer. Thank the person and let them know you will call to follow up and set an appointment in the very near future. Then do it. This technique will not work unless you take the initiative and make that follow up call.
- Prepare, prepare, prepare. Prepare lists of questions about the profession or the industry. Do your research so that you know something about the person you are meeting with and the company they work for (you might be amazed at what a simple Google search will turn up). Make good use of your contact’s time. Remember that they are busy people and they have set aside time to help you at your request. Don’t waste time on too much small talk. Be ready with questions to help you gather the information you need to determine your next step. Go ahead and write these questions out and bring a notebook with you to jot notes during your conversation.
- Don’t bring your resume. This might sound like unusual advice from a professional resume writer. However, the informational interview is not the best time to bring your resume out as it changes the whole “tone” of the meeting. Your contact will likely ask for your resume, and if they do, you can mail it or email it with a thank-you letter as soon as you return home from the interview.
- Be prepared with your 60-second “elevator pitch.” You need to be ready to explain very briefly who you are, what you have to offer, and what your career goal is. The informational interview is not the time to stumble and stutter over this. You don’t want to sound too rehearsed, but do anticipate the question about yourself and be ready with an answer.
- Ask for referrals. It is essential that you do not leave this step out. Be sure to ask the contact if they know of someone else you should talk to.
- Finally, show your appreciation and follow up on every single contact with a thank you note sent within 24 hours if possible. True networking is based on cultivating and nurturing long-term relationships. Besides being common courtesy, your efforts in writing and sending a sincere thank-you note will pay you back by further strengthening your relationships and helping to keep you visible.
Informational interviewing: it truly is this simple and if the concept of networking is uncomfortable for you, it is also the best and easiest way to expand your network faster than you ever thought possible. Of course, the ultimate benefit is that the more you network, the faster your current job search will come to a successful conclusion and the faster and more successful any future job searches will be.