Informational interviews are a valuable tool for anyone who is looking to gather information and insights about a particular industry, company, or job role. Whether you’re a recent graduate exploring career options, a seasoned professional considering a career change, or simply looking to expand your network, informational interviews can provide you with valuable insights and help you make informed decisions about your career.
Here are the steps to conducting an effective informational interview:
Identify the right person to interview
The first step in conducting an informational interview is to identify the right person to interview. This may be someone who works in a company or industry you’re interested in or someone who has a job role you’re considering. You can start by looking for contacts on professional social networking sites like LinkedIn or by reaching out to your personal network to see if they can make an introduction.
Request the interview
Once you’ve identified the person you’d like to interview, it’s time to request an interview. Be clear about your goals for the interview and why you’re interested in speaking with them. Explain that you’re looking to learn more about their career path, job role, or industry and that you’d appreciate the opportunity to ask them a few questions.
Prepare your questions
Before the interview, prepare a list of questions that you’d like to ask. Your questions should be open-ended and designed to elicit detailed and informative responses. Some examples of questions you might ask include:
What led you to pursue this career path?
What does a typical day look like for you in this role?
What do you think are the most important skills for success in this industry?
What are the biggest challenges you face in your job?
What advice would you give to someone who is considering a career in this field?
Conduct the interview
When it’s time for the interview, make sure you’re on time and prepared. Dress professionally and have what you need to take notes. Begin by introducing yourself and thanking the interviewee for their time. Then, ask your questions and listen carefully to the answers. Take notes and ask follow-up questions to clarify any points that are unclear.
After the interview, be sure to follow up with a thank you note or email. Use this opportunity to express your gratitude for the interview and to reiterate your appreciation for their insights and advice. You may also want to ask if they would be open to future conversations or networking opportunities.
Informational interviews are a valuable tool for anyone looking to gain insights and knowledge about a particular industry, company, or job role. By following these steps, you can conduct an effective interview and gather the information you need to make informed decisions about your career.
January is a time of year where many think about self-improvement and career development as they stop and take stock of their lives and think about the year ahead. As a long-time career coach, I’ve helped many clients as they consider their options and think about if it is time for them to make a move. Here are some common signs and reasons people leave their job that I’ve heard from clients over the years:
Stagnation: If you’ve had no growth in your role in the last year; no growth could be no change in your title but it could also look like no opportunities to learn new things or take on new responsibilities to groom you for future advancement. Other types of stagnation could be that your company has no path for upward mobility or expansion/development of your role due to the size of the organization or because a manager wants to keep you in your current role for your convenience.
Smart organizations and managers know that developing employees is important and invest time, effort, and resources to do so. It is natural to want to get better at your work, learn new things, and to want to advance in some way in your career. It’s okay to look for a role that allows you to do just that.
Toxic Culture: Organizations that foster a lack of trust or create an environment that requires you to stay on alert can not only be detrimental to your career, but also to your health. Undue stress at work rarely stays at work, radiating into our private lives as well. Caring for yourself includes choosing environments where you have psychological safety both at home and at work.
If you are in an environment where people fear retribution if they speak up, spend more time covering their back than looking ahead, or reward people despite negative or harmful behaviors – such as a high performing team member that makes coworkers miserable, but their negative interpersonal behaviors are excused because of their performance, it is perfectly normal to want to exit.
Toxic Manager: What does a toxic manager look like? It could be that they lead through fear, manipulation, communicate poorly, micromanage, or simply are ill-equipped or prepared to support their direct reports. Leaving a job because of a bad manager is one of the most common reasons. In the case of an ineffective manager; if you’ve taken steps to proactively improve the situation by asking for the specific things you need from your manager and they continue to not provide you with what is necessary to do your job, it’s perfectly reasonable to escalate the situation to upper management or look for other options in or outside of the organization.
If you are ever intimidated, berated, or made to feel unsafe, escalate the situation immediately with HR or upper management. Always protect your safety first and foremost. Companies should have a zero-tolerance policy regarding harassment, so don’t endure poor behavior. I know many people (myself included) have tolerated poor and inappropriate behavior from colleagues and managers in the workplace because they feared making things worse. But I can’t emphasize enough how taking care of your own safety and well-being needs to matter to you.
Sinking Ship: If the company you work for is on shaky ground (here are some handy signs to look for) either from poor leadership and management of company assets, poor forecasting, or lack of clarity on product differentiation, then it is understandable to start researching and applying to other opportunities, even while still actively trying to improve the status of the organization through giving feedback and making improvements. At one time or another, it’s likely that you’ll be at an organization when everything is going up and up and also be at one that is facing hard times. It is important to think like a business in this situation and also look after your own financial well-being and career trajectory and get yourself into a better situation when it looks like the best option for you and your priorities.
Rigidity: The type of inertia that can take hold in organizations both big and small can be a company-killer and career killer. Some businesses seem to change very little on the surface, but if you dig a little deeper, in most organizations with any sort of longevity, you’ll find regular and important changes have happened to the structure, operations, products, processes, locations, and policies when needed to keep up with external and intrinsic factors. Change and flexibility are important to the ongoing chances of survival for an organization. If they don’t change with the times or with what the marketplace demands, it is unlikely that a business will last.
Companies that perform best are the ones that look ahead and anticipate future necessary changes and plan for them. If you find yourself in a company that is rigid and their default position is to do things how they’ve always been done, it’s okay to be suspicious of their chances for enduring success. If you work for a company that won’t change with the times your career can be hampered by being left out of using current technologies, work practices, or societal norms – all of which could keep you from getting or keeping future roles.
Friendlessness: This one might surprise you, but not having a friend where you work can be indicative of poor work satisfaction, better than many other markers. When employers survey employee work satisfaction, they often ask if you have a friend or best friend at work. It is thought that people don’t often bother deepening connections with those around them if they aren’t happy with their role or the organization. Also, people are more likely to stay at an organization if they have a close friendship within it. So, there is a cycle present with this one marker of worker happiness. You don’t have to be friends with everyone at your company, but if you don’t have any friends at an organization, it is worth taking the time to consider why.
New Year’s resolutions get a mixed reaction when I discuss them with clients, and I can understand. I’ve had some great wins from seasonal inspiration drawn in years past and I also have had some spectacular flops. Notably, I purchased a nordic track that I was equally happiest the day I purchased it and the day I sold it. But every time, I got a boost to whatever I was working toward – and that incremental improvement over time can add up to quite a lot. So no matter if your goals are small or grand, I applaud you for every resolution you are planning this year.
If you haven’t already considered adding career goals to your list for the year, I thought I’d share some ideas to assist you in your career development in 2022.
Add reading into the mix by setting a monthly reading goal. Your professional development can skyrocket from introducing new ideas through reading. Whether related to your profession directly or business and the world of work generally, there are both classics that have stood the test of time and new authors with great value to add to your work life. Whether you love the smell of a new book, enjoy the convenience of an e-reader or your phone, or if you have figured out the time-saving hack of audiobooks – all are good. I have no snobbery about how you digest your reading, but encourage a couple of practices that can make it more meaningful and useful. First, see if you can find a high-quality summary of the book to read after you’ve read the book (or before, if you want to see if it’s worth the read). Many business books have been around for long enough that there are free summaries online and there are also many good book summary sites out there. Having a summary makes it easy for you to reflect on your main take-aways and think about how you’ll apply what you’ve learned. Alternatively, note-taking while reading can be beneficial. Writing notes either in the margin, in a separate digital document, or notebook can help you retain information better. Experiment with note-taking the next time you read non-fiction and see if the experience is different for you.
Add business podcasts or ones related to your profession into your routine. For those of you in an active job search, you might also consider listening to one of these career podcasts. If you haven’t explored podcasts before, they really aren’t dissimilar to radio shows, but since they are self-published and available digitally there is an amazing array of topics available and really, no specialty seems to be too small. I love gaining inspiration from all types of coaches, thought-leaders, and fellow entrepreneurs. Especially as a person who works remotely and runs my own business, I can personally attest that podcasts are a great way to be aware of the larger conversation and current thought trends in your industry.
Have you joined a professional association?Professional associations can be a wonderful way to network, learn more about your profession, stay on top of trends and new technology, and a place for you to educate and mentor others as well. If you’re a member of an association, but haven’t been very active, consider volunteering for a role in a local or state chapter, creating and sharing a presentation to help colleagues tackle a common or pressing problem, or reaching out to see what the association needs help with in 2022. Having a “givers gain” mentality when you are meeting with and associating with colleagues is a good way to proactively strengthen your network and feel good about your contribution to your profession. Some professions have multiple associations you can pick from, so do your research and find the right fit for you. See if you can check out meetings and resources before joining and reach out to active members to learn more.
Update your resume. The best practice I recommend is to update your resume quarterly with new accomplishments, projects, and skills. Even if you don’t polish the addition, adding the facts and details while they are fresh is one of the best bits of regular professional development you can do for yourself. This one activity will help you be prepared, no matter what happens in your year; it can make preparing for professional reviews easier, it can help you if a great internal or external opportunity becomes available, and it will aid you tremendously if you suffer a sudden job loss.
No matter what you set out to achieve in 2022, I wish you loads of success in ways both small and big!
If you are interested in developing deep professional development goals with a career coach, please reach out any time. You can message me on LinkedIn or set up a time to discuss your obstacles and goals with me in a free introductory, here: https://nerdygirlcareercoach.as.me/schedule.php
Before (note the gap on the right of photo/front of the bed, the crowding on the end closest to the camera).
After – better spacing and room for plants to grow, a fuller looking bed, and plants more unencumbered by each other.
What does gardening have to do with your job search?
As I looked at the plants I planted yesterday, I frowned. I had picked my placement of the plants and checked them carefully, two times, before planting. However, I was slightly unsatisfied and felt it could look better, a feeling which only continued today. As I looked over the plants before watering, I remembered I had the power to edit.
I removed the plants, moved some forward, some back, some to another place entirely. Ultimately I was very happy with the improvement. This is my big takeaway from my gardening results that I think is so relevant to people as they begin their job search and update their resume: even though I liked the initial version and heard positive feedback from others, I kept open to the possibility that my work could be improved upon. Then I acted on it.
Your resume can be improved upon.
When viewing your resume, a document that could be fairly unchanged for years at a core level, keep in mind in order to improve it, first, you need to open yourself to the possibility of improvement. When I or any resume writer or professional reviews a resume and suggests changes, it doesn’t mean your resume is bad. It means the person reviewing can see ways it could be better. I know that certain elements on people’s resumes can be there for so long, that it can be hard to imagine your document without it, but at least starting from being open to change is a good start.
Invite detailed feedback to make your resume its best.
Next, you have to invite feedback in a way that truly encourages people to offer suggestions for changes. Often, people will skip things they think might be too hard for you to implement or might be more trouble than they are worth. So tell anyone giving you feedback that no suggestion is too small, and that you want your resume to be the best possible is the right sort of messaging. Ask for opinions on specific sections or experience. Let people know you are serious about wanting to strengthen the case you’re making for yourself. Let reviewers know what your target position is so they can properly evaluate if you have succeeded in supporting that goal.
Create versions, try advice.
Last, hear people out and try their advice. Save an old version and know that you can always go back to that for information, reference, or to use it if you think it is better in part or as a whole. Then you can be free to implement all feedback to see if you like what it does to your resume; to see if you like the finished product. It’s hard to tell if a change will make a big or important difference until it is in place. Remember that you have the power of creating many versions, so play around and experiment to see what makes you and your resume its best.
Need help with your career but you have no budget to work with a Career Coach and Resume Writer like me? Here are some great resources that can help you at every step of your job search, including ones I use with my own clients.
Job Search Info: Job-hunt.org is probably the best repository of online job search articles that are rock-solid and truly helpful. The website was founded by a person who was left out in the cold during a reorg and subsequently run by a person who was laid off twice and made it her mission to help others suffering with the loss of a job. Don’t let the no-frills design fool you, it’s the one of the job search “how-to” resources online that I always feel comfortable sending clients and friends to for more information on job seeking. Check out their free guides: https://www.job-hunt.org/online-job-search-guide.shtml and stellar interview preparation information: https://www.job-hunt.org/job_interviews/job-interviewing.shtml
One-Stop: The Career One-Stop by the Department of Labor has resources to help explore careers, take assessments, find training, and connect to local help. https://www.careeronestop.org
Career Exploration: These tools by the Department of Labor also shouldn’t be overlooked. At https://www.mynextmove.org, you can browse careers, take the free O*Net Interest Profiler, or use tools designed to help veterans transitioning out of the military.
Books: If you don’t have an unlimited book budget (doesn’t that sound dreamy?) get this great extension that easily checks your local library for books and ebooks straight from sites like Amazon and Goodreads: https://www.libraryextension.com. I’ll recommend books periodically (pardon the pun), so follow me for regular recommendations of great reads to boost your career.
Entrepreneurship: Thinking of starting your own business? This is a resource that can help every step of the way. The Small Business Administration has tools that can help you plan, launch, manage, and grow your own business: https://www.sba.gov
Maybe this has been a long and difficult year. Maybe your job wasn’t heading in the right direction before everything hit last year and the events of the year haven’t helped. Whatever the reason, do you find yourself dissatisfied with your work? Many people I’ve been talking to have decided to leave their current roles for these reasons and more, but the problem remains, how do you keep your head in the game and stay happy when you don’t have the next role lined up? On top of that, how do you stay positive when your job search might take a while to yield just the right opportunity? How do you find things to love, even when you know you are ready to move along – in short, how do you cope? Finding a few small ways to improve what you can control can make any situation more bearable in the short term. Here’s a list of things you might try to keep your mind and spirit healthy.
Remembering why you wanted the job to begin with. It is common for people I work with to somehow have lost contact with what they initially liked about their work. Maybe the job has gotten more complicated over time or they are doing less of what they were drawn to initially. If there is a way to keep what is fulfilling about the work more present in your mind throughout the day (who do you help, what do you create, what impact do you make), it may make the day more bearable. Keeping a photo or keepsake nearby that reminds you what you are working for can also help provide a positive visual cue on tough days.
Find ways to play to your strengths. You might not have control over what you do, but is there any flexibility for how you get things done? Finding ways you can do your work that play to your strengths can make your task a little lighter. Better still, is it possible for you to do more work that relies on your strengths and to do less of what drains you? Is there anyone around who is strong in an area you are not that you could share this responsibility with to get everyone working aligned in a way they work best? Speak with your management if you need to, but strive to make your job one that helps the company and employees – including you.
Improve your relationships. Are there people you are working with that are difficult for you to communicate with or see eye to eye? Clear the air any way you can and find common ground. Don’t tolerate hostility, but don’t generate it either. Work with a mediator if necessary, but try to find a way to move through any interpersonal conflict and get to a point where you can collaborate effectively even if you aren’t best friends. Being able to navigate choppy waters is a good story to tell in interviews and good practice. Make it a project. Give yourself bonus points and treats for making a difficult situation manageable. If the environment is truly toxic and others don’t meet you half-way, try not to make yourself hold up the weight of a bad professional relationship for long. Involve HR or management when necessary and take good care of your mental well-being.
Manage your stress. Find what helps you blow off steam and do it. Make a list of the activities that fill your tank; they could be hobbies, or exercise (even moderate is great!), talking to friends, petting a cat or dog, playing a board game with family – ANYTHING that takes your mind off of your troubles and gives you a chance to unwind, breathe, smile, laugh, and most importantly, relax. Meditation practices (there are some wonderful apps out there!) can help you capitalize on small breaks throughout the day and creating mental calm as well as help you ratchet down anxieties and stress at the end of your day. Pro tip: it can be hard to remember to do these activities and to slow down when you are used to running at a high gear for a long time. Schedule breaks and make intentional space for de-stressing at the start until you make relaxing a daily habit.
Talk to someone. Find someone you trust (friends and family) who you can reason things out with and get things off your mind when they are troubling you. If you find your problems are particularly worrisome, difficult, or chronic – reach out to a therapist or counselor to make some headway and find some peace. With the advent of so much tele-health and app-based therapy options, you can find a variety of ways to include therapy to help make life more manageable. Keep in mind if one therapist or type of therapy isn’t right for you, there are so many options out there, so keep trying until you find the option and support that works for you. Sharing can really take some of the weight and sting out of problems, so it is worth a try.
There’s an expression, “comparison is the thief of joy”. This last week, that expression kept rolling through my mind as I heard people compare this holiday season to other years, as I compared my experience of this year to other people’s experience, and as clients compared their career success to others. Do you also find yourself measuring your career to those around you? Let’s talk about how comparison can bring you down or be used to help elevate your career.
Evaluate Your Strengths
One way I see clients make comparisons which aren’t helpful is when they compare themselves to people that have different core strengths and they don’t take that into account. When thinking about your professional performance, first evaluate what you are best at, which types of activities come naturally to you and which don’t. If you aren’t mindful of how you work best, it’s easy to make yourself miserable for not being able to accomplish something the way another person does instead of finding the best way for you to get to the finish line.
Once you know your strengths and weaknesses you’ll be in a better position to figure out how to accomplish tasks and conquer the goals before you. You’ll also be in a better position to establish the best types of work to fit your talents in the future.
Celebrate Small Wins
Comparison that can be unhealthy is when you’re holding yourself to an unreachable ideal. It’s great to give yourself something to work toward, but you also need to set benchmarks you can celebrate along the way to so you don’t get discouraged. If you never feel a win along the way, a lofty ideal can be demoralizing instead of motivating.
A trap that is easy to fall into is to let jealousy or despair take hold as you compare yourself to others in higher positions with more authority, responsibility, and perks available. Performing a gap analysis, or comparing your experience and knowledge to those in roles you want to work toward, and then following that analysis with action is the key.
Once you know where you need to do some work, then take a class, get a certification, and ask for new responsibilities and tasks to strategically build your knowledge, skills, and abilities in the right areas to get you where you want to be going forward. You might not get there right away, but you’ll be able to enjoy the progress you’re making in the meantime.
Reach out to me today if you’d like help evaluating your strengths, setting benchmarks, performing a gap analysis, or discussing your goals for the new year.
There are many ways to give the gift of career support. What can you do to give the gift of support for the job search or career development of the recent grad, advancing professional, or person you know who wants to make some sort of career change. Here is a list of gift ideas to help you give the gift of self-actualization and career fulfillment!
Gift Career Coaching or Resume Reviews
I get asked if it is okay to give career coaching or resume reviews as a gift. Of course! If you know a person wants to make a change or is struggling a bit with the job search, it’s a thoughtful way to help. However, if you aren’t sure that the other person is looking for another job or wanting to make a change in the future, it could be awkward – so make sure you know it is something they can use. When in doubt with all professional development gifts, it is okay to ask the recipient if they could use the gift or if they would appreciate it. It removes the surprise a bit, but is a great way to vet out the idea if you aren’t sure it is what they want.
Professional Association Memberships
Professional association dues can be pricey, especially for someone early in their career, which is often when involvement in the association can be so beneficial. These groups do a lot to develop professionals and advance the profession and provide excellent networking opportunities. This is an especially great gift for the recent grad. Much like the previous idea, you’ll want to discuss this with the recipient to make sure they want to get involved with a group and that it is for the group of which they would most like to be a part. It is important to note that for lots of professionals there are a wide variety of groups that would be beneficial, so if they are already part of one (which they are paid up for) ask the follow-up question if they have any additional associations they’ve been interested in joining as well?
Courses and/or Certifications
I won’t repeat the advice to ask on this one, but will mention that certification processes can be so expensive as sometimes it requires multiple types of fees; fees to join the certifying body as member, fees for coursework, and fees for the actual certification test or application process. If you know that someone is undergoing the process of becoming certified, ask if you can make a contribution to support them in that process. Chances are they would love a benefactor to join in on shouldering the weight of the investment and will be touched to have you support their advancement.
Books on Professional Development
Last, but certainly not least, books are a wonderful gift idea. There are so many books that professionals can use to get ahead in their role. If you know there is a new book out by their favorite business writer or inspirational leader, that can be an easy win (sometimes you can even get signed copies from the author’s website or you local book seller when they have promotional events like book tours). Here are some great books on professional development that can work for a variety of types of professionals:
5; Where Will You Be Five Years From Today – Is a light and breezy book that helps people answer a number of questions around their career goals and helps them begin to imagine that future more clearly. This is my go to book for college grads, but can be great for anyone who is still wondering and exploring what the future holds for them.
Case in Point – Is the essential preparation book for anyone who will have to do a case interview, which applies to anyone entering the field of consulting, but also professionals in private equity, strategic planning, marketing, logistic, operations, and human capital.
The Resume Writing Guide: A Step-by-Step Workbook for Creating a Winning Resume – At 292 pages, this really is the COMPLETE workbook on how to get a professional and polished resume together on your own. When I initially ordered the book, it was to see why it was so long, and once I received it, I realized it was because the author does a great job of taking you through every element of how to create a great, polished resume. So, if you want an amazing resume without hiring a writer, this is the book for you.
Introducing a new Premium Package including 3 Sessions and Coaching Kit Bonus!
Do you want to work with a career coach and at the same time, are a little tired of all of the screen time you’ve been logging this year? I’ve created a career coaching package just for you! This coaching package includes a free kit including a variety of mainly analog resources to support our one-on-one sessions.
Develop clarity in understanding who you are – your professional brand – to assist you in all aspects of your career marketing including; telling impactful stories in a resume, cover letters, profiles, bios, and interviews.
Your free kit includes 3 high-impact guided activities using a bare minimum of technology to give you insights on your career story, strengths, and values as well as these tools to support those activities: ✓ Knowdell Career Values (cards and worksheet) ✓ Journal and additional 3 worksheet kits for each step in the process for developing your career story. ✓ Strengthsfinder book and access code for assessment (this assessment is administered online using your code) and bonus Strengths items