Spokane Journal of Business

Networking is more essential part of job hunting

Informational interviews can help people find work

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Even in the best of times, millions of Americans are unemployed.

And tens of millions more are just one bit of bad news away.

In other words, we’re all temps. These days, no one is a permanent employee. Our jobs exist only as long as our company needs our skill set, as long as we do the job better than someone else, as long as the company we work for is competitive and stays in business.

This is the age of mergers and acquisitions—if another company buys or merges with your company, all bets are off. No matter how wonderful an employee you happen to be, if you become redundant, you become expendable.

As hard as we try, we can’t dictate the direction of our work lives. There are factors beyond our control, and there always will be. 

All of which means, simply, that we’re in this together, sitting in the same boat, rising and falling on the changing tides of commerce, economics, politics, and life. 

If you’re unemployed or worried about becoming so, know this: You’re not alone.

Here’s the encouraging news: Even though the process can be arduous, even daunting, you can get through tough times with positive persistence and a game plan.

Know this: When you are out of work or wanting to make a career change, the best way to find a job in this economy, or any other, is by personalized networking.

To be clear, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use the Internet. By all means, post your resume online—LinkedIn and Indeed are effective—and apply to all appropriate job openings.

But aside from the Internet, I’m a bigger believer in the value of face-to-face networking—booking a series of what I like to call informational interviews. They will prove to be like gold to you.

First, take the time to compile your golden list of 25 or so individuals whom you can reasonably count on for support and guidance. 

Now is not the time to be shy. Don’t hesitate to contact people you haven’t seen for some time. Almost always, your effort to reach out will be much appreciated and welcomed.

Who are the best candidates for booking informational interviews?

•Someone who likes you or has reasons to help you. They have a personal or professional investment in your success and well-being.

•Someone who knows a wide range of people who are “plugged in.” These are connections that can be useful to you.

•Someone who’s savvy about the existing job market and future employment trends. Their knowledge has real currency and value.

•Someone who’s successful in his or her own career. Simply put, they know what they’re talking about. 

After taking a few minutes to get reacquainted, get to the point. Be professional and appropriate. Make it clear that you’re not asking for a job. Instead, you’re asking for their time, to let them know that you’re in the job market, looking for a job that fits your skills, interests, and experience. 

Don’t ask—or worse, insist—that people do things they might not be comfortable doing, or can’t do without extraordinary effort, or that may damage their reputation.

Remember, they’re doing you a favor because they like you and respect you. Besides, you want your network of informational interviews to be a living, growing, enduring entity. You’ll need—and want—to periodically go back to these contacts, so nurturing these relationships on a long-term basis is essential. 

Managing this list quickly can become overwhelming if you don’t stay organized, so be sure to create a notebook or database to keep track of all your contact names and network activities. Document whom you spoke with, the topics discussed, and projected outcomes. And always send thank-you notes—an email is fine, but personally hand-written notes are always appreciated.

For example, Sarah met with me for an informational interview. I was able to give her some good leads. After a nice thank-you note, I never heard from her again. Too bad. I wonder if she is still out there searching for a job. But for me, she is out of sight and out of mind.

Robert, on the other hand, stayed in touch with regular updates every few weeks or so. I felt like I was vested in his success because he cared enough to stay in touch with me. Most importantly, when he told me that he had been hired, I congratulated him and shared in his joy. 

As you might imagine, the next time Robert seeks my advice or input, I will be more than happy to hear from him. Sarah, not so much. It’s just human nature.

As you begin your job search, here’s something else to keep in mind: Just as an employer has no obligation to inform employees that their jobs are at risk, you’re under no obligation to tell your employer that you’ve begun a job search.

Thus, I don’t recommend that you announce your potential departure plans to your current employer or co-workers. Be selective about whom you share your plans with. The last thing you want is an early dismissal from your current employer.

As you network, it’s important that you make sure that they know you would appreciate their discretion. If you have chosen wisely, they will surely understand.

Remember, effective networking happens all of the time, anytime, anywhere. Always be prepared. One sign of being prepared is having plenty of personalized business cards on hand.

A business card is really an old-fashioned “calling card.” It need not be elaborate and, in fact, probably shouldn’t be. The card should simply bear your name along with basic contact information—phone number and email. That’s it.

Carry these cards with you at all times. They are a sign of your professionalism and a key to opening doors to your next career opportunity, whether it’s a temp job or a permanent position. 

Phil Blair is the CEO of Manpower West, a network of Manpower temp-to-hire franchises in eight Western states, including offices in Spokane, the Tri-Cities, and North Idaho.

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