Thursday, January 21, 2010

Why Candidates Should Avoid The Ambush Informational Interview

When most candidates establish a contact at one of their target companies, their first goal tends to be coffee. The goal is to get the person out of their office, away from their phone, so that you have 100% of their attention.

This is a great goal, and can lead a job seeker towards gaining some important inroads into a target company.

It’s just that most candidates don’t pull this off often, and when they do they usually ask for the wrong things, minimizing the effectiveness of the meeting. Most of us just weren’t taught to network very well for a job.

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There are 5 problems with most informational interviews: Getting the appointment, determining a goal, determining what to ask for, how to ask, and avoiding the ambush.

Problem #1 - Getting the appointment: Chances are your new contact is a busy person who doesn’t have much spare time on their hands. You as a job seeker have a very real reason you want to have coffee – you want their help in finding a job at their company (What’s in it for me – WIFM). But what reason do you give your contact? What’s in it for them (WIFT)? See for more details.

When you ask to set up a coffee meeting, do you say something similar to “I want to learn more about your company”? (Translation: I want a job, or I want to sell your company something – WIFM). What’s in it for your contact? What value proposition are you offering them, in order for them to give their time to you?

In your contact’s busy world, where those still working in corporate America are doing the job or 2 or 3 people, you’d better offering something of value if you want someone’s time today.

What can you offer (WIFT)? Information - What information would be valuable to your target? Would your target find information about their industry to be valuable? About their job function? How about their competitors?

As a job seeker, you are researching all of this information. Why not use it as currency? To get past WIFT, start forwarding articles to your contact before asking for a meeting. The type of information that gets a response (industry, function, or competitor) is likely your contact’s hot-button. Once you learn the hot-button, offer to meet over coffee to give more of this type of information. If you do this correctly, and make it about the contact (WIFT), not you, you’ll earn coffee meetings return calls, and fans wanting to help you.

Problem #2 – Determine an achievable goal: A candidate's goal is to get a job.

It's probably not achievable over a cup of coffee, especially if your contact is not the hiring manager.

How many of you set your goal as finding out what job opportunities there are at a company for your informational interview? How many of you want to get your resume into your contact’s hands so they can pass it to the hiring manager? Come on admit it…these are goals of most candidates. But neither one is usually achievable, and both waste a great opportunity.

Most companies, other than really small ones, have Employee Referral Bonus policies ( that assure your resume goes to HR, just as it would if you applied online. In addition, if you set up a meeting to give information, and ambush the contact by asking for a job, you’ve blown your credibility for something the contact can’t even give you.

Instead, make information your goal. You‘re giving information to get a meeting. What do you want in return? Don’t you want to learn more about your target company? Use your meeting to understand your target’s problems, challenges, goals, roadblocks. Find out how these issues affect your target department. Don’t waste your contact’s time to ask for names – you can get names from Linkedin, ZoomInfo, or Jigsaw.

Problem #3 – Determine what to ask for:

Most candidates lead the discussion over the phone or in person by talking about their interest in the company, looking for a job, yadda, yadda, yadda – WIFM.

Don’t fool yourself, unless it’s a close friend, your contact isn’t meeting with you because they can’t wait to help you. They are meeting with you because you have something they need – information.

The answer to problem #3 is simple – Don’t. Don’t ask for a job.

Again, a counterintuitive strategy, but if you ask for a job you’re using your newly built goodwill to ask for something your contact probably can’t give you.

Your contact can give you information, and will if they trust you. By giving information without asking for anything in return, you build trust.

Problem #4 – How to ask: You’ve heard the answer to problem #4 before – Don’t. Don’t ask your contact for information.

Instead, give information first - almost any person who has received a favor will want to return it and will likely ask what they can do for you? Have your contact ask you, rather than you asking them. You’ll have a higher success rate in getting information, and you’ll get better information from your contact, if you make the discussion WIFT.

Problem #5 – Avoid the Ambush: I advise my clients to resist the urge to bring a resume to an informational meeting. Again, this sounds counterintuitive, but it’s not to a candidate’s advantage to have this be an informational interview – interview means job, resumes for jobs get passed to HR at most companies. Make this a meeting, and make it WIFT.

How can you use information to generate WIFT informational meetings? Can you avoid the ambush and resist the urge to bring a resume?

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