by Tad Mayer
Let’s say you want to build a table. You’ll be able to get some general directions on the Internet, from a book, or in a magazine, but you specifically want a tiger maple round table with six legs at an odd height. It will be hard to find an article specific to your project. You’ll be able to find some plans that you can try to adapt, but you’ll be missing a fair amount of important information, like:
- What happens to tiger maple when you cut it in a circle (with the grain, against the grain, and across the grain)?
- What’s the best way to design a six-leg table with a round top and an odd height?
- How will your particular tools handle the job?
Answering these questions will give you the best chance of success. You can probably talk with someone where you purchased the wood about how it will act and react. You may be able to reach out to a furniture maker about the legs, and a manufacturer’s rep can give you insights into your tools.
If you do the project without these conversations, it will probably end up with chips, tear-out, and irregularities in the wood. And, the legs may not look quite right with the rest of the table. You have to reach out to those who have gone before you to get the inside scoop.
A job search is no different. How do you think someone will do if they interview with a hiring decision maker for a job without knowing:
- Skills they’ll need
- Common best practices
- Trends in the field
- Leaders’ expectations
- Differences among the companies in that field
- How the field or company defines success
- Who the thought leaders are and what they’re saying
- What people in the field are currently trying to accomplish
- What types of people succeed, and which do not
- What is valued by leaders
- What the culture is like
- What’s important to the hiring decision maker, beyond the job description.
It’s unlikely they will get the job.
How can you get that kind of information? Most people say, “The Internet!” Sure, some of it. But, where can you get the most in-depth, in-context, and interactive information? The equivalent of the wood, leg, and tool experts in the table example above are connectors, people who have insight into the field/company/role you are applying for. They have worked there and with either the decision maker, or similar decision makers. Connectors not only put people in contact with other connectors and decision makers, they also provide and connect people to information. And the venue to speak with them is an informational interview.
“But,” you say, “I don’t know anyone who has that kind of information.” Maybe, but you know someone who knows someone who does. Start with family, friends, and close colleagues, and keep asking, “Who else do you think I should meet with?” You’ll get there. As one of my co-authors of our book Own the Job Hunt (due out later in 2017), Justin Wright, said about gaining access to connectors in the field of mediation, “The great thing about the informational interview process is that it’s self-correcting. I could have started out speaking to circus clowns and eventually I would have made my way to interviewing with highly experienced mediators. It just would have taken longer.”
Because it can take a number of meetings to get the information you need, many people skip this step. As described above, this results in people who may get the interview, but not the job because they don’t understand the decision maker’s world. And keep in mind that this is mostly true for people pivoting from one industry to another, but it is also true for people transitioning between companies in the same field.
Now go meet with those connectors so you can knock it out of the park in your job interviews! The investment will be well worth it.
Tad Mayer is a co-author of Own the Job Hunt (due out in 2017), as well as career coach, trainer, and speaker. He has helped clients pivot between fields, as well as advance within companies and industries. He has also taught negotiation as an Adjunct Professor at the D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.