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November 21, 2014 / 28 Heshvan, 5775
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Informational Interviewing – Your New ‘Best Friend’

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One of the best aspects of the frum community is our dedication to chesed. From a myriad of organizations to shul committees to neighbors doing whatever they can do to help those in need, chesed is one of the main pillars of our community.

Have you ever seen this scenario? Someone walks up to another person in shul and laments the disastrous impact that his unemployment has had on his family. We all know that networking is the best way to find a job, so gathering his courage, he says, “You work at X corporation, can you please hand in my resume?”

Trying to be polite and empathetic, the other person responds, “I will try to do whatever I can.” Weeks and even months may pass since the unemployed person asked for an update only to be told that the other person is still “doing the best he can.”

“He is doing the best he can” for a person who desperately needs a job? It can be hard to believe that a real attempt has been made. People may rightly wonder why an employed community member wouldn’t try to do everything in his or her power to help a person in need of a job. Does he simply not care about the unemployed members of his community?

I am confident that the vast majority of people want to help their friends and neighbors if they can. Consider what a personal recommendation means for the person making that introduction. People spend years building their professional reputation. They pay close attention to all of their actions. They work hard, long hours and often go above and beyond the call of duty. Like it or not, when an employee makes a personal referral, he is putting his professional reputation on the line. If things do not work out, or if a recommendation is made for a person who does not share that same kind of work ethic, the finger of blame will be pointed back at that employee. Many years of dedication can be compromised by a poor referral.

It’s not that they don’t believe their unemployed acquaintances have the ability to work hard and succeed, but they really have no way of being sure. As much as people may want to help, can they really afford to put their professional reputation on the line for someone they don’t really know?

At Touro, we provide our students with a methodology to help minimize that referral reluctance. Instead of asking friends or acquaintances for a job or a referral, we advise our students to ask for an informational interview.

The website, Quintcareer, states, “Here’s a startling statistic: One out of every 200 resumes (some studies put the number as high as 1,500 resumes) results in a job offer. One out of every 12 informational interviews, however, results in a job offer. That’s why informational interviewing is the ultimate networking technique, especially considering that the purpose of informational interviewing is not to get job offers, … but … interviewing designed to produce information. What kind of information? The information you need to choose or refine a career path, learn how to break in and find out if you have what it takes to succeed.”

It involves meeting with people who are currently working in the career in which you are interested so you can get a better, more accurate understanding of the specific job or career and to build a network of contacts in that field. Quintcareers has an excellent step-by-step Informational Interview that can be viewed at www.quintcareers.com.

Why is this methodology successful? You are not asking for a job or a referral; you are asking the person to share their perspective on a career or position in which they are currently working.

Make a request for a 20- to 30-minute meeting which is a small investment in time and is a much more likely to produce a positive response. Most community members would be willing to give a half hour to help if they can. In addition, the request itself is flattering; you are acknowledging the person as an expert in the field who can be helpful to you.

Make a formal request to meet with them at a scheduled time in their office. Your goal is to make this as official a visit as you can. Avoid having a brief discussion after minyan or at a local restaurant. A meeting in their office will allow you to find that person in their professional setting and state of mind.

Make sure you present yourself as a professional who can fit well into the company’s culture. It is imperative that you come dressed as if you were going on an actual interview wearing formal business attire. As with all interviews, err on the side of being too formal, even if that is not the standard mode of dress in that company.

Come prepared with a number of questions the answers to which are important to you. Doing so not only provides you with helpful information, but when you are well prepared, your understanding of the field will be obvious to the interviewee as well.

Ask questions like, “What do you see as the pros and cons of your profession?” “What do you see as the future of this field?” “What was your career path?” “What does a person need to do to achieve success in this field?” “If necessary, what course of study should I pursue?” “What professional organizations should I join?” The main questions to ask are: “What actions should I be taking to move into this field and with whom else should I be speaking?”

There are two main goals for this form of interview. To find out the real scoop on the career and your being perceived as professional and interested in the field and as someone the person being interviewed can comfortably refer. This can transform you from just another face in the community to a potentially valuable employment asset. We suggest that students do anywhere from 5 to 10 Informational Interviews to get a balanced view of the industry, career or position.

Most professionals do not want to pass up a valuable asset. Whether they think of you for a position in their company, a great way to earn a referral bonus, or as a way to help one of their colleagues who may need another talented person, you have flipped from asking for help to being of help to them. You have also minimized the risk involved by alleviating some of the concern about your professional capabilities.

It is very important that you do not ask for a job or a referral during your meeting. Doing so can undo all that you accomplished if the interviewee feels that s/he was misled as to your purpose. For the same reason, it is equally important not to offer your resume unless it is specifically requested.

There will be times when no such request is made. Do not show any sense of frustration. You asked to speak about the profession, not to ask for a job. You were granted what you asked for, and you must remain appreciative for the time and effort the interviewee put into the process. To reiterate, if you are not asked, do not volunteer your resume and do not ask if they are aware of any other job openings. Appearing ungrateful is not an attractive professional quality. Whether or not you are asked for your resume, you can respectfully inquire for introductions to other people who may be able to provide further advice. Professionals in a field tend to know their colleagues, and a polite request can open the door to expanding your network exponentially.

Remember to send a thank you letter within 24 hours of your interview. Thank him/her for their time and reiterate some of the useful information you may have learned from your discussion.

Informational interviewing is a great way to build and expand your professional network, to discover the real ins and outs of a particular field, and most importantly to demonstrate your professionalism in the work setting and make referral decisions a lot easier.

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