10 reasons why your informational meetings aren’t working in your job search

meetingLet’s set one thing straight: it’s not an informational interview—although that’s how most people refer to it. It’s an informational or networking meeting. But regardless of its name, there are 10 reasons why your informational meeting will fail, if you approach it the ways listed below.

I’ve granted informational meetings, and in many cases they were uneventful. Uneventful because they were more like a question and answer session than a conversation. Dull. Furthermore, the questions were not well thought out.

I’ve asked for informational meetings and in most cases I was prepared for them. Often they went to the point where we could have talked longer. I gathered great information, whether it was encouraging or set my expectations straight.

The purpose of an informational meeting

Let’s be clear, no job has been advertised, so they’re not actual interviews. That’s why the terms “informational meetings” or “networking meetings” are more fitting.

You’re requesting an informational meeting to gather advice for a particular position and the company. So you’re the one asking the questions, intelligent questions. Therefore there is no pressure on the person offering information and advice; and no pressure on you.

Your goal is to present yourself as a potential solution to problems the company may have. There might be a position developing at the company, unbeknownst to you; and you might be recommended to the hiring manager for the position. At the very least, you could be sent away with three other people with whom to speak.

Some reason why your informational meetings aren’t working in your job search

1. The questions you ask are weak. Poor questions show a lack of preparation and are disrespectful. A question like, “What does your company do?” is weak because is lacks creativity and thought. Besides, you should already know what the company does before talking with the person granting you the meeting. I hate this question.

Another question I hate being asked is, “What do you do?” Can you be a little more specific? “How do you prepare for creating your workshops?” is a question I can talk to at length because it gives me direction. Begin the discussion with, “I know a little about what you do, but I  have some questions to ask….”

Note: If there’s one question you should ask, it’s, “Are there any issues or problems that exist in your department or the company?” This gives you the opportunity to talk about how you’d solve the problem.

2. Your enthusiasm level is low. Chances are the person granting you the informational meeting is not looking forward to spending his valuable time answering questions from a person he’s never met, or met once at a conference. So coming across as bored or hesitant, will not bode well.

Instead begin the conversation by introducing yourself and explaining why you are excited about talking with said person. Why you’re interested in the position up for discussion, as well as the types of companies you’re interested in learning about. Don’t forget to smile while you’re talking in person or on the phone–it can be heard through the phone connection.

3. You arrive or call late. This is a no brainer. If you are late for the meeting, you might as well kiss it goodbye. This is common sense; people hate it when others are late, me included.

Make arrangements for this special day so that there’s no way you’ll be late. In fact, arrive early if you’re meeting for coffee with the person granting you the meeting. Set your watch alarm or e-mail alert 10 minutes before making the call. You’ll impress the person by being early.

4. You don’t have a clear agenda. Similar to point #1, your agenda doesn’t provide direction. You come across as wimpy and disorganized. Your adviser is unsure of how this meeting will go.

State at the beginning of the meeting that your goal is to learn more about the position, the company, and competition–if the person can speak to that point. While you want the meeting to be more like a conversation, it doesn’t hurt to provide structure. Write down all your questions in groupings of the job, company, and competition. This way you won’t forget to ask them.

5. You don’t have data to back you up. You’re not being interviewed for a job, but the person granting you the meeting will want to know something about you. To break the ice, she might ask what you currently do and what your interest are.

So you’re interested in event planning, but most of your experience as been through extensive volunteerism (you stayed home 10 years to raise a family). Most recently, you were tasked with planning the PTO’s bake sale which raised $30,000; whereas the year before the school raised only $15,000.

6 You don’t make the person feel like he’s doing you a favor. You make the person feel as though you’re the one who’s inconvenienced by having to ask questions and giving structure to the meeting. You come across as someone who is all about yourself, not about giving back.

As I’ve said before, the person granting you the informational meeting is taking time out of her busy schedule. Say, “Thank you for taking this time to answer my questions,” at the outset and repeat your words of gratitude at the end of the conversation. If you don’t do this, you’ll come across as a taker.

7. You ask for a job. Hold on. There’s no job available; at least to the person granting you the meeting, so don’t be presumptuous. Besides, the mere fact that you’re before this person or talking on the phone implies you’re looking for a job, especially at this company.

Now if it’s a known fact between you and the person with whom you’re speaking that a position exists at the company, by all means discuss the possibility of your fit, both job-related and personality wise. Perhaps you were given a soft lead from a connection of yours.

8. There’s no call for action. You don’t ask if there’s anyone else you can speak with to gather more information and advice. If no position exist or is being developed at the moment, the least you should come away with are additional people with whom to talk. Often jobseekers will neglect this part of the networking process.

Your goal is to gather as many quality people to join your networking campaign. Politely ask at the end of the informational meeting, “Can you think of anyone I can speak with regarding a nursing position?” Don’t expect the person to come up with three people immediately; she may have to send you the contact information.

9. You don’t reciprocate. Failure to give back demonstrates your lack of networking etiquette. You can’t expect to receive and not give. I come across many people who think their job search is the center of everyone’s lives and don’t think of offering help to those who help them.

Reciprocity can come in many forms. After discussing some issues that existed at the company, you came up with a better procedure for the company’s supply chain operation. Or the small company needs some graphic art for their website–this will fit nicely on your resume.

10. You don’t send a thank-you note and follow-up. This is a golden rule at any point in your job search. Failing to send a thank-you note, via e-mail or thank you card is insulting and a sure way to lose that person as part of your network. A network shows your gratitude and professionalism.

Gently remind the person who granted you the informational meeting of the additional people you should contact. Keep a lively conversation–perhaps one that involved an existing problem at the company–going, and offer a solution to that problem. By all means don’t drop this person as a potential networking connection.


 

Informational meetings can be a gem. I tell my workshop attendees that they’re not easy to come by, as people are extremely busy. Most people who grant informational meetings do so because they want to help you in your job search. Don’t waste their time. They can be an asset to your networking endeavor.

 

3 places where introverts need to get away to recharge their batteries

alone at workLast year my family celebrated our daughter’s graduation from high school with a small celebration. We were near a lake and the temperature was in the 90’s. Many of our friends were there with their kids who immediately took to the water.

A perfect setting. I enjoyed conversing with our friends, as we talked about kids and past events; and I was particularly animated as I talked.

Then it hit me like a title wave. I needed time to get away and recharge my batteries. Did I care if company would miss me? Not really. As an introvert, group events can take a toll on me. I enjoy the company of others, but my energy level for talking with them is not as enduring as it is for extraverts.

Extraverts have that energy that drives them through a party; it charges their batteries. They derive mental stimulation by talking and being listened to. I don’t’ envy them, though. The time alone to watch the kids swimming in the lake or even sitting in silence next to another introvert is as rewarding as it is for extraverts to talk to others at length.

Small gathering is the first place that comes to mind where introverts need to get away. The following two are:

Networking events. As an introvert, you may find yourself enjoying a conversation with a few people, but suddenly it occurs to you that where you’d rather be is in a quiet place, perhaps outside getting some fresh air, or in a lit room.

What’s likely to happen is another introvert joining you, perhaps by mistake or because she saw you escaping to your place of reflection. This is fine, because it’s you and she making small talk, such as, “Had to get away from the crowd.” I know what you mean, she tells you. And so you’ve established a bond.

Like the time I stole away from our guest at my party, you’ve had the opportunity to recharge your batteries so you can return to the larger group, which is now in the “needs and leads” portion of the event. One of my LinkedIn connections told me this type of break is what she needs before returning to a business event and possibly an extended after hours. Sure, it may be time for some to retire to the hotel room, but she understands the value of personal networking and pushes herself to keep going.

Work. Some introverts enjoy the opportunity to take a lunch-time walk, while their colleagues, most likely extraverts, are gathered in the staff room engaged in a boisterous conversation. Walking alone or with a walking mate is a great way to recharge your batteries. I personally prefer listening to music or talk radio, as it allows me to walk at my rapid speed and lose myself in thoughts of the day.

If your fortunate to have an office or cubicle away from the fray, your getaway is convenient and doesn’t require leaving the office. This type of situation is ideal after a day full of meetings, not only to recharge your battery but also to respond to any e-mails following the meetings. Introverts are more productive when they have solitude and moments to reflect and write, something they prefer over meetings and brainstorming sessions.

Whether you’re at a family gathering, a networking event, or at work, getting away is important for maintaining a strong energy level. Introverts are capable of interaction for extended periods of time, but we’re more comfortable if we take time to get away. Don’t deny this opportunity and don’t feel as if you’re being antisocial. You’ll be happier and more productive if you tend to your preferred way to energize yourself.

5 ways to be memorable in a positive way in your job search

question mark

I don’t remember much, but when I do, I never forget. There are some jobseekers I remember because they leave a lasting impression, like one woman I had in my Behavioral Interviewing workshop whose story about motivating others was so compelling. Melissa is her name.

Then there’s Mark who just got an Administrator position in healthcare. He thanked me for my help and told me he’d write an account of his job search and how LinkedIn was of great help.

Lisa landed a benefits job in human resources. Previously she was a manager, but she wanted out of that. She proved that stepping down is fine, just as long as you can still prove your value.

Armando I remember because he would always ping me with updates about his job search. He was always positive, never seemingly desperate, and sometimes he offered to help me. He still remains one of my favorite former customers, still someone I’ll reach out to. The other day, in fact, I called to see if he needed a gift in the form of a very talented jobseeker.

Kelly just landed a marketing job at a bank after being out of work for approximately a year. When she spoke with me just before securing her job, she admitted to being discouraged; but she never showed this. In fact it was just the opposite–she was positive and very active on LinkedIn.

Unfortunately there have been people who are a complete downer, but they’re far and in between. Still I remember them because of the poor impression they made. Mike Downer would constantly e-mail me about how he wasn’t going to make it. I would tell him he would if he networked and tried to be positive. He finally got a job. I won’t hear from him unless he needs another job.

The five people* I mention–yes they exist–who came across as positive and/or were willing to provide any help they could are the ones I would go out of my way to help; whereas the one that was always negative is someone I’d dread hearing from.

There’s a pattern here. People want to go out of their way to help those who make a good impression. If you want to be memorable to people who can assist you in your job search, keep in mind the following:

  1. Appearing positive, regardless of your internal struggles, attracts more people than if you’re negative. Negativity drives people away. Take Mike Downer, for example.
  2. Remind people of you by pinging them with e-mails and phone calls, but don’t annoy them with constant contact. Offer to meet them for coffee if it’s convenient for them.
  3. Always follow up after you’ve met someone who might be of assistance. Every time you follow up ask if you can be of assistance to them. If you can reciprocate in any way, it’s better than only asking for their help.
  4. Know your stories. Expert on storytelling, Katharine Hansen @ A storied Career, touts the importance of stories, how memorable they are in life and in the job search.
  5. Let people know about your successes. Had a great interview? Let people know. Finished a résumé you’re happy with? Let people know. Although your confidence may be low, announcing your achievements will make you and others feel great.

These are just a few positive things you can do to become memorable. Don’t be a downer, regardless of your internal struggles. Most people understand that being out of work is painful, including yours truly; so don’t make it the gist of your relationship with others. People like this are easy for me to remember, even if I can’t remember big name actors like Chris….See, I forgot.

*I will occasionally update this list of people and their examples of positiveness.

4 ways to take control of your job search

Some jobseekers tell me they turn on their computer every day to log on to Monster, Dice, CareerBuilder, Indeed, and other job boards. They spend many hours a day applying for posted jobs, sending as many as 20 cookie-cutter resumes out a week, anticipating a call from a recruiter or Human Resources. They wait and wait and wait.

To these jobseekers I point out the futility of a job search like this, explaining that if they want faster results, they have to be more proactive. I tell them this in my Career Networking workshop.

First I talk about the “Hidden Job Market” which is a concept they understand, but I’m not sure they accept. When I tell them them connecting with others is the best approach to penetrating the HJM, I can hear them thinking how difficult it will be to get outside their comfort zone, to get away from their computer.

The message I try to deliver is that they have to be proactive, not reactive. They have to take control of their job search, not let it control them. Here are some ways you can be proactive in your job search:

Approach letters. Not oft used, these documents are ideal if you prefer writing more than using the phone, so you might be somewhat introverted. No job has been advertised. (Advertised jobs represent 20% of the labor market.) You’re not reacting to an advertisement.

The goal is to get an informational meeting or better yet, chance upon a possible opening that hasn’t been advertised (80% of the labor market). You must describe your job-related skills and experience and show the employer that you’ve done research on the company to boost the employer’s ego. Read Teena Rose’s article on approach letters.

Good ole’ fashion networking. Normally we think of networking as strictly attending organized meetings where other jobseekers go, doing their best not to seem desperate. (I’ll admit that this type of networking is unsettling, although necessary.) The kind of networking I’m referring to is the kind that involves reaching out to anyone who knows a hiring manager.

Most of the people who contact me after they’ve secured a job tell me that their success was due to knowing someone at the company or organization. You must network wherever you go. Network at your kid’s or grandchildren’s basketball games, at the salon, while taking workshops, at family gatherings (see Any Time is Time to Network)—basically everywhere.

LinkedIn and other social media outlets. I recently received an in-mail from someone who is currently working but is not enjoying her experience. I’ll keep my ears open for the type of position she’s looking for because she asked me to. LinkedIn members who know the potential of this  professional online networking tool are reaching out to other LI members for information and contact leads.

Another one of my jobseekers is doing everything possible to conduct a proper proactive job search. He updates me on his job search and sends me job leads for me to post on our career center’s LinkedIn group. I’ve got a good feeling about this guy. He’s being very proactive by using LinkedIn and his vast personal network of professionals.

Follow Up. Allow me to suggest a must-read book called Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. I think this guy gets more publicity from me than any author I’ve read. The reason I recommend this book is because none of these three proactive approaches are useful unless you follow up on your efforts.

Never Eat Alone teaches you how to network in every situation and then how to keep your network alive by following up with everyone. I mean everyone. Send an approach letter, then follow up with the people to whom you’ve sent it. Network face-to-face, then follow up. Connect with someone on LinkedIn…you guessed it, then follow up.

Being proactive sure beats the hell out of only reacting to jobs that have been advertised and visible to hundreds, if not thousands of other jobseekers. It gives you a sense of accomplishment and yields more results than exclusively participating in the visible job market. Being proactive makes you believe that the job search will finally come to a halt, that the job search is in your hands.

4 tips for promoting yourself in the job search

When I was a kid and made our town’s Little League baseball team, I ran to my neighbor’s house where my father was helping our friend fix a lawnmower. I burst into the garage and told my father with pride that I’d made the team. His response was to tell me not to brag.

I’ve thought for a long time that my father taught me that day an important lesson about humility. Now I’m not so sure it was a good lesson. It seems that we, as a society, don’t promote ourselves enough.

This is particularly true about my valued customers who need to promote themselves.

I read an article, Why You Should be a Shameless Self Promoter, in which the author, Kevin Daum, speaks of three reasons why entrepreneurs should promote themselves. It resonated with me because he broaches a topic that many people feel uncomfortable about, self-promotion.

While we need to self-promote, the author claims, we also can’t cross that line that is unclear to many. He writes: “So we need to shamelessly self-promote, loud, strong and often. And yet somehow we have to keep from crossing that line of being annoying and offensive.”

I understand there are reasons why my jobseekers don’t feel comfortable promoting themselves. One obvious reason is that their confidence is shattered; and when you’ve been kicked in the gut, it’s hard to muster up the ability to talk about yourself in a positive, objective way—which is to say, not brag.

But there are three tips the author provides entrepreneurs for “shameless self-promotion.” I agree with them but have adapted his tips for jobseekers. I have also added a tip of my own.

  1. Be interesting. Know what interests potential employers. If you have the same goals in common, this makes self-promotion all that much easier. This gives you free reign to highlight your accomplishments and related experience, as long as they apply to the job; which is an indication that you can repeat your accomplishments in the future.
  2. Be authentic. As a jobseeker, your accomplishments will seem more authentic if you have evidence to back them up, perhaps in the form of recommendations, awards, or outstanding references. What others say about you, I tell my customers, carries more weight then what you say about yourself. And always be truthful; never lie about your achievements. Lies will come back to bite you in the ass.
  3. Provide value. Any self-promotion has to have relevance. If the employer is looking for someone who has demonstrated superb written communications, you should not talk about the numerous presentations you gave before packed houses; you will come across as a round peg for the employer’s square whole. Think back to the times when you wrote the company newsletter and got published in trade magazines.
  4. Don’t over-due it. This is my own reason for self-promotion. Avoid using words like “great,” “outstanding,” “the best,” etc. It is far better to provide facts than conjecture. For example, “I was the best counselor on the staff“comes across as bragging without any substance. Better put would be, “Among my colleagues, I was given the highest-level customers on a regular basis. I was trusted by management to give them the service they needed.” Yes, you were the best.

The simple fact is that you as a jobseeker must promote yourself, because you can’t rely on others to be there by your side in your job search. The author talks about how we were taught not to brag, like the time I rushed to my father proud of making the town’s Little League team. Don’t brag, but don’t refrain from self-promotion when the time is right, like while networking or at an interview or in your written communications. The time is now.

Job search tip #9: Knock on companies’ doors with approach letters

In the last entry we looked at making your company list. Today we’ll examine knocking on companies’ doors by using approach letters.

The other day during a résumé critique one of my customers told me how he had been networking. Something was in the works with a company as a result of him being proactive and knocking on the company’s door. Not literally; although, that’s a viable option. He had sent an approach letter to one of the directors at the company asking for an informational meeting, which then lead to further consideration.

Of course a phone call might have been quicker for my customer than sending a letter, but he felt sending an approach letter was right for him. (By the way, using LinkedIn’s Search Companies feature is a great way to find people at companies.)

For you jobseekers who lean more toward introversion, an approach letter may also feel more comfortable than calling a director, VP, or an individual contributor. There’s more to an approach letter, though, than simply sending an e-mail telling the person that you’d like to get together with her to meet for a short meeting.

With the approach letter, first you’ll research the company so you can write intelligently about why you’d like to meet. You’ll write highly of the company, selling the company to the recipient of your letter. This will show your enthusiasm. It will also show you took the time to visit the company’s website, read articles in the newspaper, and used other methods to research the company. This is the first step you’ll take to impress the recipient.

Next you’ll throw in some kudos about yourself. What makes it worth her while to meet with you? You gained some valuable skills when you worked at the medical device company in their marketing department. You’ll write about the accomplishments you had, like authoring press releases that drew the attention of many of the media, spearheading a direct mail campaign that garnered new business beyond what the company had achieved.

Don’t forget to indicate that you’ll call the recipient. Set a date and exact time. If the person picks up the phone or you have to leave a voice-mail, be ready to explain why you’d like to meet with her. You would like some information on a position you’re pursuing. You’d also like to share some knowledge of competitors or the industry.

What follows could be a networking meeting or maybe good timing on your part—there may actually be a job the company’s trying to fill, unbeknownst to other jobseekers searching the Internet for advertised positions. This is precisely why you don’t want to simply send an e-mail without laying out your skills that make you ideal for a possible job in the company.

The only thing left to do is picking up the phone and asking the recipient if she received your letter. Following up is the last component of sending an approach letter. Even if talking on the phone terrifies the heck out of you, at least you have gotten in your message without having to deliver it cold. You’re compelling writing has wooed the recipient into wanting to know more about you.

In the next article, we’ll look at using LinkedIn to network on line.

Job search tip #8: Make your company list

Last week we looked at creating a contact list and starting to network. Now we’ll look at making a list of companies for which you’d like to work.

When you buy a pair of athletic shoes, do you research the brands, consider where you’ll buy them, and decide on an acceptable price? Or do you go into any store and buy the first pair of shoes you see at any price? If you’re a smart shopper, you’ll plan before you act.

The same attitude of a smart shopper applies to a smart jobseeker. One important step you must take is to research companies for which you’d like to work. I often ask my jobseekers if they have a list of companies they’re researching and if they’re taking action.

Let’s examine the steps you need to take and why it’s important to make your company list.

Google it. As a jobseeker, you understand the necessity of a search engine. First decide what market/s you’d like to pursue. I googled Data Storage in the Boston, Massachusetts, area and came up with 22 companies within a 25 mile radius. EMC, Dell, HP, Genzyme, Iron Mountain, TJX, and other big boys were some of the companies that popped up.

Check your local business journal. The Boston Business Journal is a wealth of information on up-and-coming companies. Large corporations, as well as start-ups, are mentioned in this publication. You’ll read good news along with not so good news. Pay attention to the companies that are showing growth and add them to your list. Your local journal will also have a People Section that will give you insight as to promotions, departures, and, of course, possible hiring opportunities.

Use your network. One of your best resources may be the Mavens who attend networking events and sit in the corner, where they shout out leads to companies that are hiring. From those contacts you’ll learn of other companies that are hiring or in the process of hiring. Your list of bona fide companies will grow longer and longer as time goes on.

Expand your list. Start small and grow your list. Five is a good number to begin with, and continue to grow your list by five every week. While you’re growing your list you’ll spend more time at your computer researching your companies. Of course you’ll check out the career section of each company, but some of your most valuable information will come from press releases, annual reports, stock news, etc.

Why is creating your list and researching companies important?

You’re being proactive and penetrating the hidden job market. Instead of spending countless hours on the Internet searching for advertised positions, you’re taking steps to penetrate the hidden job market. Experts assert that 80% of all jobs are hidden, so identifying companies that are showing growth will confirm that they’ll be hiring in the near future. And who will they want to hire? That’s right, the people who work there or referrals from the people who work there. Trust is a powerful thing.

You’re on your way to being known by your targeted companies. At this point you’re an unknown, a stranger coming off the street. Making connections at your companies won’t be easy (certainly not as easy as blasting off hundreds of cookie-cutter résumés) but the rewards will be great and you’ll benefit from the connections you’ve made for the rest of your career. You’ll become a known commodity.

You’ll be seen as someone who takes initiative. Does a smile spread across your face when the neighborhood kid comes to your door asking if he can shovel your driveway? He’s showing initiative. Your initiative will come in the form of knocking on companies’ doors, just like the neighborhood kid. You may be the extraverted type who will call companies and ask for an informational meeting, or you may be more introverted and prefer writing approach letters, professional profile sheets, and sending them to hiring authorities.

Next Friday we’ll look at knocking at companies’ doors using an approach letter.

 

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