It’s Not Just Coffee

The world’s most popular job-hunting book turns forty this year.  What Color is Your Parachute has inspired and supported generations of job hunters.  One of the terms Richard Nelson Bolles coined in his seminal book, is informational interview.   An information interview is a meeting a job seeker schedules to ask for career or industry information, rather than interview for a specific position. 

Forty years ago the best, and perhaps only, way to learn about an industry was to talk with an insider.  In the nonprofit sector this was certainly true.   Understanding the skills attributes or experience necessary to step on the first rung of a nonprofit career path were hard to define. There was no Google, social network or real-time access to information.   Printed materials were dated, hard to find, or nonexistent. 

Access to information has changed dramatically in recent decades.  What Color is Your Parachute acknowledges the fast changing career landscape by publishing a new addition each year.  Lately, I have been wondering if some of the people who call me are still reading the 1972 edition!

Specifically, job seekers seem to be unaware that information on any job, in any industry, is abundantly and easily accessible.  Today, information is also readily available on the professional credentials of anyone you might identify as a resource for your specific job hunt.  In the ’70s, ‘80s and perhaps even the ‘90s, it was often challenging to identify the right resources, and arrive for information interviews with precisely honed questions.  Not any more, so what are the update rules to make information interview effective?

  • Research, Research, Research

Your resource is a professional who is giving you the gift of time, use it well.  Do your homework, research the industry and prepare thoughtful questions that explore information not readily available online. Then research the people who are likely to have the information you need, pick resources sparingly.  Each session with a resource may require hours of research and thoughtful preparation.    

Want to switch from a for-profit to a non-profit job? First, undertake comprehensive research on local nonprofits and the information available on this type of career transition.  Trying to better understand the skills and attributes necessary to advance in the fundraising profession? A Google search will net over 8 million hits and the Association of Fundraising Professionals is number one.  Want to relocate to another part of the country? Research real estate, cost of living and the job market before you start booking appointments.  Nothing is worse that realizing that the person you are doing a favor for, has not done their homework!  Poor preparation is not a asset in building your network.

  • Don’t Waste Time on the Wrong People

Since the beginning of the year, I have been contacted at least once a week (sometimes once a day) by someone who wants to schedule a face-to-face meeting for an information interview.  Often they start with the statement:  “I have had coffee with 50 people and person x said I should call you.”   If you have had coffee with 50 people and still do not have the information you need, perhaps resource selection is a problem (return to research).  If you have had coffee with 50 people and still do not have a job, perhaps you were not really doing information interviews.  Or perhaps 50 people are telling you things you do not want to hear?

  • Be a Sponge

Information interviewing is about learning new things and exploring new options.  Are you open to hearing new ideas, insights and information?  If you are interested in finding a job, or making a career change, it’s important to listen to all the feedback, not just that information you want to hear.

Most busy professionals are truly interested in attracting new talent to their field and talking about what they do.  Time is a precious commodity, use it well.

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