Don’t Suffer from Job Application Phobia – FAQ

I was on Twitter the other day and a young lady commented, “Having to fill out the job application makes you not want the d*mn job!” It was at that moment that I knew it was time to write this article as I totally agreed with her and felt her pain.  During your job search, you will probably fill out several LONNNNNNG online applications.  It can be a very frustrating and tedious process; however, you needn’t suffer from job application phobia.  While each application is different, there are some general guidelines that can be used across the board.  I hope my responses to these FAQs help get you through the process while keeping your sanity!

1) Why are job applications so long and detailed?

Sometimes I secretly think they make them so long to see if you actually really want the job and want to go through and answer all their questions!!  But seriously, filling out the job application is very important and should not be minimized as employers use this as a screening device. If they see a half-completed application, they may assume that the person is not really that serious about the job and you will most likely be skipped over for the interview. Employers have carefully designed their questions to get the information they need to determine if you are a good fit.  The saying is true: “Resumes tell the employers what YOU want them to know and job applications tell them what THEY want to know.”  So be prepared to spend 30 minutes to an hour per job application.  In case no one has told you, looking for a job IS a job!

2) Do I have to fill out the entire application?

No you don’t, but keep in mind that might cost you the chance to interview.  If you want to proceed to the next step, you definitely have to fill out at least the required fields.

3) Should I have my resume and cover letter prepared beforehand? 

YES!! This will save you a lot of time.  Having your cover letter and resume already prepared means all you have to do is upload it or copy and paste it.  Some applications require a cover letter and some don’t, but it is better to have it prepared beforehand then to have to stop in the middle of the process and develop one.

4) What information do I need regarding previous/current jobs?

Most applications want information on the last 3 – 4 jobs you’ve had.  So it would be a good idea right now while you’re thinking about it to make a list of pertinent information for those jobs.  You know they are going to ask for this information so having it already written down BEFOREHAND will save you so much agony!!!  You should have the following information:   A) company name and address, B) supervisor’s name, title, and phone number, C) hire date and end date, D) starting and ending salary, E) your job title and accomplishments and F) reason why you left that job.  Basically, your success in filling out applications will be determined largely by how prepared you are.

5) What if I worked for a company that no longer exists or my supervisor no longer works there?

Just give the most recent contact information that you had for the company and/or supervisor.  You can explain in an interview that the company shut down or your supervisor left.  If just your particular location doesn’t exist anymore, give the information for the main office or headquarters. Human Resources should be able to verify the information employers need.

6) Should I submit my references at the same time as my application?

If you are given the option to include references, I would go ahead and submit them.  Now remember, your references should be 3 people whom you’ve had a professional relationship with for about a year.  That could be a supervisor, co-worker, professor, or someone you’ve worked with in a volunteer capacity – not family or friends.  Your references should be up-to-date and not go back to someone you had a relationship with more than 3 years ago, but there may be some exceptions.  I normally update my references every 6 months whether I am looking for a job or not.  That way when the time comes I already have the people and information I need.  Oh yeah, be sure to give your references a copy of your resume and give them a ‘heads up’ if an employer will be calling them about you.

7) Why do they ask you your graduation date from high school and/or college?

My guess would be to try to figure out your age.  Most people graduate high school at 17 or 18 and college at 21 or 22.  So depending on the year of your graduation, they can add it up and figure how old you are.  They may use your age to discriminate against you if they feel that you are too old or too young. I only fill in the graduate date if it is mandatory.  (If you haven’t actually graduated yet, you can put the month and year that you plan to graduate.)

8) What should I put as my reason for leaving a job if I was fired?

You can write “would like to discuss in the interview.” That way you can explain the circumstances surrounding your termination.  Now you can’t do this for every job, but if there is one job that you feel needs to be explained in person, then it is acceptable.  I was a hiring manager for a number of years and when I saw that someone wanted to discuss in the interview their reason for leaving a job, that did not stop me from calling them.  (Tip:  Make sure when you discuss it in the interview, you discuss it positively.  See my blog:  “How Do I Talk About Being Fired In an Interview?”)

9) What should I put when asked about desired salary?

Always give a range if you can such as $50,000 – $55,000/year or $20.00 – $25.00/hour based on research you have done in your field or what was mentioned in the job description. Having a range gives you more flexibility when it’s time to negotiate.

10) Is it okay to put “see resume” anywhere on the application?

Absolutely not!!  More than likely you can just copy and paste the information directly from your resume.  Don’t be lazy!!  Remember, applications are part of your first impression.

11) What should I put if an answer is required but the question doesn’t pertain to me? 

You should write “NA”  or “Not Applicable.”

12) Is it okay to say that I don’t want my current boss to be contacted?

That is perfectly fine. I always say that I don’t want my current boss to be contacted because I don’t want them to know that I am looking for a job.  The only exception was when I was transferring to another team/location within my same company.

13) Do I have to answer questions regarding ethnicity, sex, veteran or disability status?

No, you don’t have to answer these questions.  Ideally, these questions are asked to ensure fair hiring practices of all genders and ethnic groups.  As a hiring manager I had to submit a form monthly to my corporate office detailing how many male, female, Caucasian, African-American, Asian, Hispanic, etc. applicants I had.  This was to ensure I was giving everyone a fair chance and wasn’t just hiring people who looked like me (African-American women).

I have seen an increase in applications wanting to know if you are a veteran.  My personal belief is that due to reports in recent years that veterans are not able to find jobs once they return home, companies have been given incentives to hire them.  As far as the disability question, it should be done to assess what additional assistance would be necessary for disabled candidates to be able to perform the same job as everyone else.

Now of course, all of the above information could be used to discriminate against you.  That’s why I said you don’t have to disclose that information and you can simply select ‘I prefer not to answer.’

14) Do I have to give my social security and driver’s license numbers?

Only if it is mandatory.  Other than that, you can leave it blank or put “will provide later.”  This information really shouldn’t be needed until the background check is done and you can provide it at that time.

15) What does the fine print on applications really mean?

This is the part normally at the end of the application and you should definitely read it carefully.  Most of the time it is regarding the truthfulness of your responses and confirming you didn’t knowingly give false information.  Some applications may have statements authorizing them to do a background, employment, and credit check.  So again, make sure you read the entire application and are in agreement with what you are submitting.

16) Is it okay to email my resume and cover letter to someone at the company AND submit an application?

You always want to be mindful of the directions in the job description.  If it says “No emails or phone calls,” then make sure you follow instructions.  Of course, if you personally know someone who works at the company and want them to pass your resume/cover letter along to the hiring manager, that is okay.  Just make sure you always submit the application regardless because there are legal ramifications regarding companies not following the proper hiring procedures.

17) How long does it take to hear something after I have submitted my application?

That depends.  It could be 3 – 4 days up to 3 – 4 weeks or more.  How long it takes could be determined by how many applications they get, how soon they are looking to fill the position, how busy they are or when Human Resources gives them the green light to start setting up interviews.

BONUS TIP:

PROOFREAD! PROOFREAD! PROOFREAD!  Most applications give you the opportunity to proofread before submitting.  It is very important that you take the time to do this so that you don’t have any mistakes or misspelled words. Also don’t use abbreviations.

 

Today I Woke Up With No Job (6 Tips to Survive Unemployment)

This statement has been true for me 3 times in my career. Each time was a little bit different – 2 times I had advanced warning and 1 time I did not.  With each period of unemployment lots of different thoughts went through my mind.  What happened? Why me? Was there anything I could have done to avoid this?  Did my manager know more than he was telling me?  What am I going to do?  I was also thinking to myself – I am intelligent. I have an advanced degree. I’m professional.  I’m not lazy and I know I am qualified to do several types of jobs.  So why am I unemployed?

I have fully come to understand how not having a job (and a job title) is directly correlated to your sense of self-worth and self-esteem.  Do you have any idea how humiliating and humbling it is for someone to ask you where you work and you have to say, “I don’t have job” or “I got laid off” or “I was fired from my job.”  Trust me….it’s not a good feeling at all.  Then on top of that people keep asking you about it every time they see you or talk to you, which just adds to the “shame.”

Nonetheless, each unemployment period was a great time of reflection for me. I was able to ask myself some very pertinent questions. Who am I? What do I like to do? What am I good at?  What am I passionate about?  Where do I want to be in 5 years?  Why didn’t I save more money?  Were the job and my co-workers really that bad? And ultimately, what have I learned from this experience?  So if this is you right now and you woke up this morning with no job, I am hoping to give you a few tips that may help you cope with this time of unemployment and uncertainty.

1) Get Some Rest

Let me repeat….BE SURE TO GET PLENTY OF REST!!  When is the last time you slept past 9:00?  (I’ll wait.)  Well, now you can!!! It won’t be long before you are back in the “rat race” and having to set your alarm clock to get up at 5 or 6 AM, so enjoy your leisure lifestyle while you can.  I know some of you have a spouse and/or children who depend on you and you still have to get up each morning at a certain time, but you can make up for it by taking a mid-day nap.  Ya know, it occurred to me one day how busy I get and how little time I have to actually spend in the house that I am paying for.  I realized one day that I never really spend anytime in my guest bedrooms.  So while I was unemployed, I made up for it by taking naps in those rooms during the middle of the day. If you really want to be a rebel, don’t even get dressed and just lounge on the couch most of the day.  Hey, you are paying to live there so be sure to get your money’s worth!! Get some rest.

2) Reassess Needs And Wants

Unemployment is a perfect time to reflect on what you really need and want in your career.  Do you want to switch industries? Do you need a job with flextime so you can drop your kids off at daycare?  Do you want a job where you don’t have to go into the office everyday?  Do you want a job with a 15 – 20 minute commute?  Assess what you want and absolutely have to have in a job. In addition, you can Google ‘free career assessment test’ and take one of the many tests online to see what career might be best for you.  Even if you are an experienced professional, it may not be a bad idea to take the test just to affirm your strengths, weaknesses, personality type, etc.  The more honest you are with yourself and where you are in your career, the easier it will be for you to find a job that works best for you.

3) Develop A Plan

While I do suggest that you get some rest, I also highly suggest that you develop a plan of action after you’re done resting and reassessing. Your plan at minimal should consist of the following:

a) Updating your resume/cover letter – I suggest that you let a professional do this because you have an emotional attachment to the information and may not be able to market yourself appropriately.

b) Uploading your resume and setting up job search agents on websites – You may want to do a few general ones (indeed.com or simplyhired.com) and a few that are specific to your industry and city.  Five or six websites should suffice.

c) Saturating your network – Once you’ve updated your resume, send it to those in your network and let them know what you are interested in.  LinkedIn is great for increasing your network and communicating with people who may be able to help you.  You must also attend networking events and job fairs.  Remember, sometimes you have to be bold to reach your goals.

d) Applying for jobs – I know it seems silly to mention this, but I need to make it clear that you should be applying for jobs until you actually get one.  Don’t get the ‘big head’ and think just because you got through 2 or 3 interviews, you are guaranteed the job.  Even if you are 99% certain you will get the job offer, KEEP APPLYING TO OTHER JOBS!!!

4) Set Daily/Weekly Goals

If you are going to file for unemployment, they will have a goal for you which may be 4 or 5 job search activities each week.   But aside from that, you should set your own personal goals.  Determine what you want to accomplish each day and week.  Now, I will be honest and say that looking for jobs everyday can be a very monotonous and draining process.  So it is necessary for you to switch up your routine.  Some days you may get up first thing and look for a job and network with others.  Other times you may relax during the day and do your job searching at night.  During one of my unemployment periods, I would take my laptop to Barnes & Noble once a week and have lunch.  I would stay there 3 – 4 hours looking and applying for jobs; however, the time went by so fast because I was in a different environment.  For each time of unemployment, once I met my goal I stopped looking for the remainder of that week.  So if I met my goal by Wednesday, I didn’t look for a job Thursday – Saturday.   This actually motivated me to stay focused and find my jobs to apply for early in the week.

5) Get a New Hobby / Stay Involved

Think about all the times you said, “I wish I had more time to _____________________.”  Now you do!  Take advantage of the extra time you have to do the things you couldn’t before.  You can repaint your kitchen.  You can go on a field trip with your son or daughter.  You can get a membership to a gym or enroll in a salsa class.  If you are already involved in the community through your sorority/fraternity or a non-profit organization, be sure to stay involved.  This will keep you motivated and give your brain a chance to think of something other than your unemployment.

6) Reward Yourself For Your Accomplishments

Of course I don’t know where you are financially, so only you can decide what is an appropriate reward for yourself.  For some it may be something as relaxing as a manicure/pedicure or as simple as going out for ice cream or a movie.  For others it may be a weekend trip out-of-town or front row tickets to a concert.  Either way you should have rewards for yourself when you have accomplished those goals listed above.  It will keep you energized and motivated.  Even though you are unemployed, you still have to take care of yourself and your mental health.  Go ahead and spend a little on yourself…..you are worth it!

As you get older and mature, you realize you are much more than what your job title says you are.   You are much more than the name tag they gave you to wear at work. Use this time of unemployment to really get to know and fall in love with yourself. Who are you really? Being unemployed for some time can be a bit of a good thing.  I know it doesn’t feel good right now, but it will work out for your good.  I’ve learned to describe my time of unemployment as a time of transition.  I have learned to be still and listen to that small voice that says – YES YOU CAN and YES YOU WILL!  I know this isn’t what you had planned for your life, but guess what – dreams change.  Your dream job is right around the corner and it will be the perfect job for you.  Now let me boldly proclaim to you what I have had to whisper several times to myself….hold on, the best is yet to come!  This too shall pass!

20 Resumes Myths Dispelled

1.  The purpose of a resume is to get a job.

NO! The purpose of a resume is to highlight your qualifications for a SPECIFIC job so you will get an interview.   Thus, the resume leads to the interview.  After the interview is the follow-up, job offer and THEN the job.

2.  You should have 1 resume and use it apply for all jobs.

FALSE!!!  This is the worst thing you could and really is a waste of your time.  You should have a general resume to use as your foundation and then tweak your resume for EACH job that you apply for.

3.  It is best to use a resume template and just fill in your information.

The best thing to do is to start with a blank document.  This will allow you to format and space the document how you want as templates could limit your space and not be easily manipulated.

4.  It is always best to use a chronological format.

This is simply not true!  The best format to use is the one that highlights your qualifications the best whether that is a chronological, functional or mixed format.   The chronological format normally shows progression in your career and education.   The functional format focuses on your actual skills and not when or where you got them.   The mixed format is a mixture of the two.

5.  Your resume should go back as far as your first job and include all the jobs you’ve had.

Generally speaking, your resume should go back only 10 years and include previous/current jobs that are relevant to the job you are seeking. However, there are some exceptions.  If you are seeking a senior level/executive management position, the employer will probably want to see ALL of your experience which will qualify you for the job.

NOTE: If you are using a curriculum vitae (CV), it can be as long as you want it to be.  CVs are typically used in the following industries: education, research, medical, dental, and those seeking a Ph.D.

6.  Your resume should only be 1 page.

If you have enough experience/education to require a 2nd page, then by all means don’t short change yourself trying to get it to fit on 1 page.  (Tip:  Decrease your margins on your resume to 1/2 an inch and that will help with the formatting and give you more room to work with.  Be sure your name is on each page in case they get separated. Also, never print on the back of the page.)

7.  It is okay to use any font and font size.

You should always be mindful of the industry you are pursuing and what is acceptable for that particular industry.  It would be safe to stick with fonts that are legible.  However, DO NOT use Times New Roman because that is the default font in Microsoft Word and everyone uses it. To make your resume instantly stand out, pick another font.  Your font size should never be less than 10.  Your name and headings can be up to font size 16 or 18.  You want these 2 things to stand out the most for obvious reasons.

8.  Resumes should have no color or designs on them.

It is okay to use color in some instances, just be conservative.  I have seen resumes with the name and headings in a different color than the body of the resume.  Again, be mindful of the industry you are going into.  Color may be more acceptable in Marketing or Advertising versus Accounting or Information Technology.  If you have a personal design or QR code (www.qrstuff.com) that you have created, it is acceptable to use that as well.

9.  The objective should list the specific job or industry you are targeting.

There should be NO OBJECTIVE on your resume…..I repeat…….NO OBJECTIVE!! That is old school…say 1995…..and we don’t do that anymore.  Most objectives are very generic and you sound just like everybody else.  Objective:  Seeking a challenging position in a successful company where I may utilize my skills and have an opportunity for advancement.  Sound familiar?  DELETE IT NOW!!!!

10. You should list all of your education/certifications/training.

Generally, I would say list what you have earned in the last 10 years.  Definitely remove high school once you have obtained an Associate’s or Bachelor’s Degree.  Once you have been out of school for 10 years, remove the graduation date because it will age you.  Of course, there are exceptions such as education and the medical and dental fields where it is necessary to show your comprehensive education.

11. You should only include experience on your resume that you were paid for.

This is 100% false.  Your resume should include ALL experience that qualifies you for a particular job – whether paid or unpaid.  So it is quite acceptable to include volunteer work, community involvement and professional organizations on your resume.

12. If you have worked multiple positions/locations for a company you should list them separately on your resume.

You can list them separately; however, it would probably be best to combine them to show a longer work history with the company.  Below is an example of someone who has worked 2 positions in 2 different locations for one bank:

Chase Bank                Dallas/Plano, TX           2005 – Present

Branch Manager (2010 – Present)

  • Accomplishment 1
  • Accomplishment 2
  • Accomplishment 3

Bank Teller (2005 – 2010)

  • Accomplishment 1
  • Accomplishment 2
  • Accomplishment 3

13. You  should include information about your employer on your resume such as company website, address, phone number, etc.

Absolutely not!  The resume is about YOU not the employer. Don’t waste space on your resume with company information.  All of these things go on an application.  If you want to highlight a specific contribution that may be listed on the company’s website, you can include a hyperlink that will take the employer directly to your accomplishment.

14. You should put the exact month and year that you started and ended each job.

It is unnecessary unless the employer specifically asks for you to include this information on your resume.  Not including the months gives the illusion that you worked somewhere longer.  This may be helpful for those who have job hopped and/or only worked short periods of time at a company.

15. You should put ‘References Available Upon Request’ at the bottom of your resume.

This is old school as well…..say 1985.  You should list 3 professional references on a separate sheet of paper with your name at the top and have it already prepared to provide should the employer ask you for it.  You want to include the following information: Name, Title, Company, Email Address and Phone Number.  Be sure to call your references ahead of time, send them a copy of your resume, and let them know that a potential employer may be calling them about you.

16. It is best to upload and send your resume as a Microsoft Word document.

The best way to save and send your resume is as a PDF document to ensure that the formatting does not shift.  Also, this keeps your information from being altered.

17. You don’t need to bring your resume with you to an interview because the employer already has it.

False!  This is a huge misconception.  You should ALWAYS bring at least 3 copies of your resume with you when you go for an interview.  You may be surprised and be interviewed by multiple people and they each need their own copy.  Also, your resume should always be printed on resume paper for a more polished look.

18. You should staple your cover letter, references and business card to your resume.

NEVER put a staple in your resume!  If it is more than 1 page or you want to submit it along with additional items, always paperclip them.

19. You should only update your resume when you are actively looking for a job.

Actually, you should constantly update your resume – probably once every 6 months.  You may not remember every skill you acquire or training class or accomplishment.  So it is best to update it consistently so that when you are ready to submit it for a job, you do not have to think about everything you have done for the past 2  – 3 years.

20. An employer will take 2 – 3 minutes to look over your resume to determine if you have the skills they are looking for.

FALSE!!  Employers receive nearly 100 resumes for every 1 job that they post.  So they will initially take 10 seconds to browse over your resume to see if they like you or not.  Ten seconds will determine if your resume goes in the ‘call pile’ or the ‘do not call pile.’  Use your 10 seconds wisely!!

 

How Do I Talk About Being Fired in an Interview?

There may come a time when you are fired from a job or asked to resign.  Honestly, it’s not the end of the world and you can recover from it.  The important thing is how you handle it in the interview.   You actually FIRST should decide if you want to put the job on your resume or not because the resume is what gets you an interview (in most cases).  If you were fired from a job where you worked for 6 months or so, you can probably leave it off without having a huge gap in employment. But if it was somewhere you worked for a number of years, eliminating it will cause a gap on your resume that will require an explanation.  Now, if you are filling out a job application, there is a way around putting the actual reason when asked why you left a job.  You can simply put “Will discuss in the interview.” I have been a hiring manager before and when I saw that on an application, it didn’t stop me from calling the person in for an interview.

So once you have made it past the resume/application phase, the most important thing you can do to overcome  this “termination problem” in the interview is to be prepared.  You know you could be asked why you left a job so prepare for it.  If you can speak about it calmly and professionally it won’t be that big of a deal. Trust me, you aren’t the only person that has been fired before.  Be able to talk about what happened without giving away too much information and WITHOUT being negative about your previous job or supervisor.   Also, be sure to mention what you learned from the experience.

For instance, if you were fired for extreme tardiness or absences, you can say “There was a point where I having some personal issues which were causing me to arrive to work late and miss days.  I was let go due to this.  I am fully aware that my absences were affecting the team because business must go on. So I understand my boss’ decision to terminate me.  I have resolved those personal issues I had at the time and if I were given the opportunity to work here they will definitely not be an issue.”

If you were fired for breaking a company policy or not following the rules, you can say “At my previous job we had  policy for __________________________________. While I was aware of the policy, I did not follow it completely because I got careless and was trying to take a shortcut.  This mistake caused customers to complain and I was terminated because of it.  I now fully understand that policies are in place for a reason and it is best to follow them.  Customer satisfaction is always the #1 priority so anything that makes customers upset costs the company money.  This was a great lesson for me and if I’m given a job here I will be sure to follow all policies and ask questions if I don’t understand why a policy is in place.”

If you were fired for consistently not meeting your quota, you can say “When I worked for _____________________, we had weekly sales goals.  It was a fast paced environment and the expectations were very high.  While I did well at first, business was very slow during the last few months I was employed there.  I tried different strategies and getting ideas from team members, but I wasn’t able to close the deals necessary to reach my goals. I was ultimately terminated for this reason.  I really enjoyed the job for the most part and I have no regrets.  I am hoping to take some of the strategies that did work in my previous job and apply them here if I am hired for this position.”

Maybe you were fired because you just didn’t feel motivated any more and were not making valuable contributions.  It happens to the best of us.  You sometimes lose interest in a job or the company makes changes you don’t agree with.  You can say “I pride myself on having a strong work ethic and being a contributor to the team.  There came a point where I was no longer able to give 100% and it really started to affect my job performance.  I had a talk with my supervisor and we realized that the best thing was to let me go so that I can pursue a job that I am passionate about.  I believe I found that job when I saw your job opening.  My previous boss and I actually still have a good relationship and he/she offered to provide a recommendation for me.”

So you see being fired/terminated does not mean your career is over.  It just means you were in a situation that was no longer working for whatever reason and it had to end.  If it was your fault, admit it and take responsibility for your actions.  We all make mistakes, but the most important thing is keep moving forward.  Talk calmly and positively about the termination and what you learned from it. Let your potential employer see the “brand new and improved” YOU!!

Why Do I Need to Do an Informational Interview?

Well, the simple answer to that question is to get information.  But let’s dig a little deeper…

One of the best sources for gathering information about what is happening in an industry is to talk to people currently working in that field.  An informational interview is an interview that you initiate.  You ask the questions with the purpose being to obtain information – not to get a job.  If you want to find out how to get to where you want to go, talk to someone who’s already there.

An informational interview is one sure way to find out if your skills and qualifications match your targeted job.  You can find out about the requirements and daily tasks of the position you are interested in, plus many tips for success and insight into the future of your desired field.  It can also eliminate “surprises” in the actual job interview.  Moreover, informational interviews can help you develop employment leads and gain experience with interviewing.  It is not unusual for an informational interview to lead to a job offer.

Now, how you go about getting an informational interview and what questions you ask are completely up to you.  There is no set way to do it but here are some tips to make your informational interviews effective:

1) Identify what you want to achieve

You must first decide what you want and where you want to go.  It is impossible for someone else to figure that out for you.  It is something you have to do on your own.  Do you want to figure out if your current career is where you really should be?  Do you want someone to look at your resume and tell you what you’re “lacking?”  Do you want to know how to get a promotion?  Do you want to know how to break into a new industry?

2) Pick 10 people in your desired industry who can help you

Once you’ve identified your goal, pick 10 people in your desired industry who can help you achieve it.  This may be someone in the exact position you want to be in or someone in management.  This will take some research.  You will have to look at different companies to see who they have in certain positions.  LinkedIn is an excellent place to start.  You can look at people in a certain industry in your geographical area.

3) Decide the best method to reach out to them

If it’s someone you’re already acquainted with, you can simply call them and request some of their time.  If you want to reach out to someone perhaps you’ve only met once at a networking event or you were introduced briefly through a friend,  you may want to e-mail them.

If it is a complete stranger, you may want to start with a non-traditional method like snail mail.  Everyone loves to receive something in the mail and since not that many people actually put a stamp on things and mail them anymore, your letter will stand out.  Then you can follow up within 1 week with a phone call. (I’ve actually tried this method before and got 6 out of 10 people to do an informational interview with me.)

You can also use LinkedIn to connect with them initially.   Be sure to personalize your invitation to say something like “Hello, I am really impressed with your profile and I would like to have you in my network.”  Wait a week or so after they have accepted your invitation to follow up and ask for the informational interview.

4) Explain who you are and what you want from them

This is where the 60 second commercial comes in.  Be prepared to sell yourself and let them know who you are.  Also let them know what your goal is and how you believe insight from them could help you in your career.  What you want is 15 – 20 minutes of their time FACE-TO-FACE.  15 – 20 minutes is all it really takes if you are fully prepared.  If you’re calling them on the phone, I would suggest you use a phone script because you may be nervous and this will help you stay on task.  You can jot down the key points you want to be sure to convey.   Make sure you know your schedule over the next few days so you can easily schedule an appointment with them.

5)  Arrive/Leave on time and be prepared with your 10 questions

Treat it like a regular interview and arrive 15 minutes early and dress professionally. Also, leave on time unless the person being interviewed wants to extend it.  You will have to pay attention to their body language to see if they are ready to end the meeting.  They will most likely let you lead the conversation so have your 10 questions written down.  Of course, it is up to you what you want to ask but here are some suggestions:

a.  What’s a typical day like in this position?  What are your duties?

b.  What personal qualities or abilities are important to be successful in this job/industry?

c.  What part of the job do you find most satisfying?  Most challenging?

d.  What training or education is required for this type of work?

e.  How do you see jobs in this field changing in the future?

f.  What special advice would you give a person entering this field?

g.  Which professional journals and organizations would help me learn more about this industry?

6) Show you’ve done your research and FLATTER THEM!! 

Be sure to let them know what research you have done on them and the company.  Go to the company website and find some key facts about the company.  You can also google the company name and see what comes up.  LinkedIn is a great place to get information on the person you’re interviewing.

Flatter!!  Flatter!  Flatter!! Trust me….flattery still works!!  Most people are humbled when someone actually takes a genuine interest in them and what they do.  This makes them more willing to share information.

7) Have them give you feedback on your resume

Perhaps, the most important thing you should do while you’re in the interview is ask them to look at your resume.  Ask what they think of your experience so far and if there are some areas where you need to enhance your qualifications.   Having them look at your resume serves dual purposes:  a) it lets you know what you need to do to improve it and b) it gets your resume in front of an industry professional and perhaps they will realize you might be a good fit for an opening at their company.   Be prepared in case it turns into an actual job interview! (This happened to me for one of my informational interviews.  The employer looked at my resume and saw all of my qualifications and had me go to HR on the spot and fill out a job application for one of their current openings.  I was called for an interview weeks later.)

8) Get referrals

Before you leave, you MUST get referrals.  Everyone knows someone else at their company or in their industry that has just as much knowledge as they do.  When you ask for referrals you can say, “Is there anyone else that you know who you think I should talk to to get some insight?  When I contact him/her, may I use your name?”

As you leave, give them your business card and get theirs as well.   (Don’t have business cards?  Check out my blog – “You Don’t Have to Have a Business to Have Business Cards”)

9) Follow up within 24 hours

It is imperative that you send a thank you letter showing appreciation for their time and insight.  Mention something specific from the conversation to show what you learned.  If they had some suggestions for your resume, make the changes and send the updated version with your thank you letter.  Also, end it by saying something like, “Because our meeting was so brief, I was not able to completely share my background with you.  I have included my LinkedIn profile/ blog / online portfolio to give you additional information about me.”

10) Do it all over again with the next contact