Have you ever had an "informational interview?" If you have, then you may know what I am talking about but if you haven't, here is a brief explanation. Watch: How To Stop Being Random With Your Networking Efforts An informational interview is a tool to help job seekers, career transitioners, and even college students, understand a particular job or field they are considering moving toward. It is a brief conversation - either on the phone or in person - in which the person seeking the new career is "interviewing" the person currently in the role or field of study. The goal is to learn about the perception versus reality of an area of interest. I did this when I was first looking into coaching. It was the best thing I could have done. I wasn't sure career coaching was what I wanted to focus on. By speaking to real coaches in various areas of expertise, I got a true picture of the training and experience necessary and even the lifestyle/schedule. Before digging into how to have an effective interview, there are a few key differences between a regular job interview and an informational interview I want you to understand. The informational interview is targeted at:

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This article was written by Lisa Adams, founder of Fresh Air Careers, on behalf of the Happy Grad Project. I was speaking with one of my nephews, Matthew, a few weeks back. He is two years out of college and gainfully employed at UCF. Actually, it is one of his dream jobs, marketing within the athletics department. I asked him what was the one piece of advice he received, prior to graduation, that helped him make a successful shift to life after college. He actually gave me three sound pieces of advice: 1) Be persistent, 2) Stay open to opportunities, and 3) Seek wise counsel from trusted advisors and mentors. Related: 5 Things My Mentors Taught Me To his credit, he did all three. Matthew stayed persistent in his pursuit of his targeted role: sports marketing. It took time, but he did land a part-time role at UCF, which then changed to full-time after a few months of proving himself to the organization. He kept his mind open to opportunities that came along. For awhile, he was working three jobs to get the experience he wanted in the various areas of expertise. All three gave him solid contacts, which helped in his landing at UCF. He then told me about the 3rd and most important piece of advice: Get more good advice through wise mentors. Matthew surrounded himself, and still does, with mentors who provide sound counsel. I felt compelled to share this advice with you since it is rare to find a college student or recent graduate fostering this kind of relationship. Yet, the rewards of these relationships can be tremendous.

Why Are Mentors Important

Have you ever tried walking a path without any daylight or a flashlight? It can be scary, and you’ll probably walk slower and more cautiously, right? Well, walking the path of the post-college world can feel the same way - scary and uncertain. Pull in those trusted advisors and mentors to help guide you along the path. By reaching out to other professionals who have been where he wanted to go, Matthew discovered he could gather knowledge and advice. The knowledge he gathered helped him to make informed decisions and risks. Mentors can give you a perspective that you cannot gather on your own. Having gone ahead in various areas of life, they can help you along the path when it’s dark out.

How To Find Mentors

Do you know adults who have spoken wisdom to you previously? That you trust? That have your best interests in mind? Consider asking them to formally mentor you in their area of expertise. Consider mentors for various areas of your life: health, career, financial, spiritual, and so on. You choose the areas most important to you at the time. Keep your eyes open to meeting new advisors through professors, career services department, friends of family members, or even family of friends. I found one of my early mentors through a college friend. Her dad was a VP of Human Resources, my field of choice. I asked her to introduce us. She did, and I followed up with a meeting to ask his advice regarding a career in human resources. The time I spent with him in those early years was invaluable. His advice guided the early part of my HR career. Asking an advisor to mentor you can be exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. The key is to ask. Simply stating why you appreciate them in their field of expertise and how you would like to be mentored by them is enough. Trust me, no one will be offended by your request. If anything, they will be honored you asked.

How To Build A Relationship

Now that you have begun to invest in the search for advisors, it’s time to build up this relationship. It’s good to meet with your advisor to discuss the logistics how, where, and when you would like to meet. Will this be a formal (structured) relationship or casual (less structured) relationship? Be aware that you bring the agenda and the goals for this relationship, not the advisor. They are there to be objective, guide, provide resources, and answer your questions. Yes, it will be a conversation when you meet, so don’t assume it will be one-sided, but the core of the relationship needs to be driven by you. Even many years removed from being a post-grad, I have various advisors I lean on - career/business, spiritual, and even a friend that is helping me with developing better nutritional habits. Each have helped me become more self-aware, stretched, encouraged, supported, and accountable. My life would be drastically different today without them. Find your trusted advisors. It’ll change your life and your career.

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The culture of an organization is incredibly important when you are making a job switch. It becomes imperative if you have lived through the challenges of working for a company or two that were not fits. Have you ever taken a job thinking the company culture was “A” but it was really “X”? To clarify, an organization’s culture encompasses several elements.

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Let’s face it: the holiday season in the U.S. can be so blessed and wonderful, but if you are in the middle a painful time in your life, it can be even more than we can bare. So, how do you get through a holiday job search? As my husband goes through his transition, I actually dread this time of year. One, for the social commitments I may or may not want to attend to; and two, for the pressure of gift giving, especially when there is no money for gifts and I love to give. It hurts not being able to give to family and friends. I hate it. But with my frustrations comes time with family and friends, that is humbling and truly blessed. Just being together to share triumphs and tragedies from the past year and plan to a hopeful future for the year to come. How blessed that is.

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The goals of a cover letter are to 1) affirm the connection you have (hopefully) already made with the addressee and 2) to get you noticed. If that is the case, why do all the cover letters I see look the same? All short one paragraph, maybe with a few bullets about why this candidate is applying for the job. What do you think the reaction is from recruiters and hiring managers when they see this type of cover letter? I say “SNOOZE - BORING.” Ignore! Is it effective to just talk about yourself the same way everyone else does? No. You need to do it differently if you are going to get a different result.

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Proper and effective follow up after an interview - informational, phone, or in-person - is incredibly important. Without it you will easily be taken out of consideration for the position. As a hiring manager, I purposely looked for the thank-you notes. If I did not receive one, they were off the list, no matter how qualified they were. Do you know why? Because as a manager, I would think, “If they can’t effectively follow up with something as personally important as a job interview, what will they do as far as follow up in the workplace?” Past behavior is a predictor for future behavior. You get the point. Send thank-you notes and e-mails within 24 hours of your interview! Never miss this step. Send notes to all the individuals with which you had a conversation. Do not send one note to just the hiring manager. You will miss out on all the other contacts that you made. Even a note to the receptionist / office manager is appropriate and helpful but only if you had more of a conversation not just a “hello.” Make the notes unique to each individual based on the conversation you had with them. Remind them of the conversation you had. In each note, remind the contact why you bring value to the company/ team / position and show your enthusiasm. As the hiring process progresses or slows, stay in touch with your contacts, as appropriate. If the process has slowed begin to follow up about every two business weeks. Too soon and it will be considered over-kill. Much later that two weeks and you’ll be forgotten. Follow up with an e-mail and include a value add. A value add may be an article you read since you last spoke that made you think of them or a topic you discussed in your interview. It's a piece of information you thought would be helpful to them. This helps to keep the conversation going and shows you are willing to help others. You’ll be seen as that all important “team player.” Later, after you have given the hiring process time, reach out to each individual on LinkedIn and add them as a connections. Even if this job does not work out, you never know, by staying in touch, what could happen down the road. A client of mine was super excited about a position last fall. Unfortunately, a former employee came back and filled the opening. Although the interviews went well. She did her follow-up communications after the interviews and after she learned of the no-offer. She followed up again in a couple of months with a value added article and to say hello. By doing this, a few weeks later when a position opened up, she was the one who got the call. She is now happily enjoying her new job. Photo Credit: Shutterstock