Mastering Your Network: Using LinkedIn for Informational Interviews|
Connections, connections, connections.
It seems like everyone you ask about getting a job tells you it’s all about the connections. There are hundreds of ways to find and talk to people that can direct you or help you in your first job search or in a search for your next step, but LinkedIn is a particularly valuable tool.
Here are my tips on using LinkedIn to get connected to the right people, the right companies, and hopefully the right next business endeavor or the right next job!
Searching for contacts
LinkedIn profiles are the Holy Grail. I used to joke with my friends that it was better to look up your partner at volunteer training on LinkedIn than to Facebook him, because you’d find out more information! The bio includes details above and beyond someone’s title about what exactly the person does at work. Who knows what “Analyst” or “Office Ninja” really means anyways? You can also tell how much time a person spends on LinkedIn – and (by the transitive property) how likely they are to respond to a message from you – by paying attention to how often the profile is updated and the amount of effort that has been put into creating and maintaining the profile. When I was unsure of the career path I wanted to take next, I used the website to peruse people’s positions and experiences, checking out what I might like or what didn’t sound interesting.
Making the connection
Once I identified someone I was interested in connecting to, I was able to see how we were connected. You’re much more likely to respond if someone is a friend of your old manager or a coworker of your cousin. Leveraging the familiarity that came with that mutual contact is the perfect way to break the ice. Saying, “I saw that you know Jenny, who was my boss at my internship!” is a great way to get a response to your message.
In your initial message, be up front and let them know that you’re interested in what they do and want to find out more. Think of why their profile was most appealing and why you chose to message them instead of the millions of other people on LinkedIn. Ask them if you can schedule a 15-minute informational interview over the phone.
If you feel more comfortable asking for a connection from a friend first, LinkedIn makes it easy to request an introduction from your friend. It’s always a good excuse to say hi to someone you may have fallen out of touch with to say, “I’m looking to change industries and saw that you work in sustainable energy. Would you be willing to introduce me to your friend Lila, who works at one of the companies I’m interested in working for?”
Nailing an informational interview
If the person you’ve messaged is kind enough to make time for you, make sure you are kind enough to value their time. When you talk on the phone, come prepared with a list of questions. Do your research in advance so that you are asking thoughtful questions. Really listen to what they have to say (no multitasking on Facebook while you’re on the call!). Make sure that you spend a few minutes – whenever it seems most natural in the course of the call – to talk about your own unique, experiences. You want them to walk away from the call and remember who they talked to! Lastly, wrap up the call by asking for their advice. Even something as simple as, “What advice would you give yourself when you were graduating from college?” can work.
Rule Number One is do not ask for a job when you’re on a short call! It’s called an informational interview because you are trying to gather information. The key – instead – is in the follow-up.
Be sure to send a follow-up email immediately after you get off the phone, thanking them for their time. You’ll solidify yourself as memorable if you send a hand-written card. My favorite touch: if they are an alumnus of your college and you are still on campus, be sure to head to the bookstore and pick up a postcard! If this is someone that you admire professionally or whose career path you really might want to follow, continue to stay in touch by sending them articles that might be of interest to them. There’s a great new tool called Newsle – if you connect your LinkedIn account, it will shoot out an alert to you anytime one of your connections makes the news.
Connecting with people on LinkedIn can be intimidating, but incredibly rewarding. If you can muster up the confidence to send that first message, you’ll turn your network into gold after following these steps.
Photo courtesy of Whati.