DFN: Tips on how to prepare when you haven’t (for an interview)
When A Job Search Moves Faster Than Expected
By Caroline Ceniza-Levine November 1, 2009 • 9:32 am
I asked an executive at a networking meeting for an informational interview and she wants to speak to me this week. I thought these things take time, so I haven’t researched her company or her industry. I don’t feel prepared but I don’t want to miss this opportunity. What do I do?
This is a luxury problem! Congratulations for putting yourself out there, asking for a meeting, and clearly representing yourself well enough that this executive wants to meet with you! Too often we don’t celebrate our job search successes. There is a ways to go before an offer is closed, but this is a step in the right direction, so take time to acknowledge this and savor a task well done. Celebrating here isn’t just about feeling good. There are practical benefits. When I coach clients to troubleshoot their search, we don’t only look at the trouble; we also look at what went well. You want to build on your successes, so capturing data on what works enables you to replicate the success for other prospective employers.
But we still have to get through this meeting. Before an informational interview you want to research the person, her company and her industry. The more research, the better, but there is plenty you can do even in a few days (or overnight if needed). So never let a good opportunity disappear just to do more research.
Read the person’s LinkedIn profile, blog and Twitter feeds if they have any. If they have presented or published, get to know their expertise. Use Hoovers or Vault data to understand the company. Read the press releases. Understand what projects are in the works, what opportunities and challenges exist for them, and any recent accomplishments. Check out the related industry’s professional trade association. There may be a list of competitors, industry surveys that give you a snapshot about key issues for the industry, and cutting edge news. You want to have a sense for the published information so you don’t ask questions about items that are readily available. I’ve listed a lot of sources but with information readily available on the Internet, this process takes just a few hours.
Now form hypotheses. A powerful informational interview is not just a laundry list of questions. Your questions are a reflection of your interest and your expertise. So take the extra step of forming hypotheses from the above research to test in your interview. Instead of asking what challenges exist, offer what you think the biggest challenge is and ask your interviewee to confirm or refute. This takes the burden off of them to come up with ideas. They will appreciate the time you took to learn their industry. Once you’ve collected their answers, it will be that much easier to speak to their competitor – not because you share confidential data irresponsibly (informational interviews don’t usually yield top secret data anyway) but because you can then say in your next interview that you’ve spoken to another leading company in that industry and here’s what you’ve found.
Good informational interviews build on each other. They are a critical component of a proactive job search. So when you bag a big target unexpectedly, it’s cause for celebration, not panic. When a job search moves faster than expected, run with it. There will be other companies that move more slowly than anticipated. One fast company does not mean a fast job search overall. Keep flooding your pipeline with more companies, ask for more informational interviews and don’t stop till you’re at your new job filling out your new hire paperwork.
Caroline Ceniza-Levine, career coach, writer, speaker, Gen Y expert and co-founder of SixFigureStart™, coaches jobseekers from the recruiter’s perspective – how the hiring process really works, what employers really want. Caroline has 16 years of experience in professional services as a management consultant and executive and corporate recruiter. Most recently, Caroline was Head of University Relations for Time Inc. She has also recruited for Disney ABC, TV Guide, Accenture, Booz Allen & Hamilton, Pfizer and Citigroup.