Before an informational interview

You might need to learn more about a career field to determine your degree path in college. Maybe you want an “in” with a particular company. Or perhaps you’re considering changing careers or seeking a promotion into a career zone that’s unfamiliar. Whatever your reasons, requesting an informational interview can feel pretty intimidating. Here are some tips to ease your nerves and help you prepare.


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  1. Ask the right person for the right reasons. Do you know how many people randomly ask professionals to meet with them for 30 minutes for an informational interview yet don’t give adequate thought to why they’re asking? Many—and this is why some mentors and seasoned professionals are a bit aloof when you ask for an informational interview.If you’re going to ask someone for 10 minutes of talk time, be sure you’re asking the right person first. Do you want advice about starting a consulting business? Ask an entrepreneur who’s started her own consulting business. Are you considering leaving teaching as a career? Ask someone for advice who’s already been there, done it, and is happy with the outcome (and ask someone who wishes he’d never left, too, because balance in perspective is crucial when making career decisions).
  2. After you’ve identified a great person to interview, nail down your purpose for the interview. Notice “purpose” is singular—don’t ask more than 3-5 questions unless you’re sending questions via email. And even then, respect your interviewee’s time by sticking to a clear, concise plan. Don’t forget to clearly communicate your purpose when requesting the interview. Most people don’t want to agree to spend 30 minutes with a pseudo-stranger unless there’s a stated purpose/plan or perceived benefit.
  3. As much as you need to be clear and concise, you also need to be flexible. If your interviewee offers you a tour of her company’s manufacturing facilities, by all means, say yes! Does that mean you’ll spend an hour and a half there instead of the 30 minutes you expected? Yes, and that’s fabulous! Leave your schedule open for at least a 2-hour block of time when you schedule an informational interview; however, try to watch the clock and wrap up your line of questioning in 30 minutes unless your interviewee is obviously enjoying herself and rambling. Let her go on and on if she likes. She’s the expert/mentor, so sit back, listen, and absorb her experience and knowledge.
  4. While we’re on the subject of time management, remember to arrive on time. There’s simply no way to make a worst first impression than to arrive terribly late. If you get lost or stuck in traffic, call ahead to let your interviewee know what’s happening. If you’ll be more than a few minutes late, ask if he would rather reschedule or continue with the interview. Be prepared for him to request to reschedule.
  5. Prepare your list of questions (3-5, ideally) and bring a hard copy with you. It’s very distracting to talk to someone while she’s clicking or scrolling on an electronic device. Put your phone down, leave the laptop at home, and break out a pen and paper for informational interviews. This allows you to make better eye contact and display your soft skills, including active listening and mindfulness.
  6. Be prepared to tell your interviewee a bit about yourself, too. Create an elevator pitch and practice in advance to avoid stumbling over your words when he asks you to tell him about your own career background and goals.
  7. If you plan to share information learned during the interview in an essay, an article, or a post on social media, get permission from your interviewee first. And good grief, NEVER record someone without his permission either.
  8. Dress appropriately yet comfortably. If you’re meeting on-site at a company or office, dress professionally (business casual). If you’re meeting for coffee or lunch on the weekend or in the evening, tone it down slightly. But remember, just as when dressing for job interviews, you’re not trying to show off your assets during an informational interview. This meeting is not about you. Don’t try to make it about you by selecting flashy or provocative clothing.Dress comfortably, not just appropriately, because sometimes we can’t predict how far we’ll walk from the parking lot to the building or whether we will climb three flights of stairs. An informational interview isn’t the time to wear new shoes or a tight, straight skirt.
  9. Follow up and express gratitude. This should always be your last step. Don’t walk away from an informational interview, shake hands, and forget to send an email or thank you card (I prefer thank you cards). Connect on social media, too. This makes it easy for you to regularly touch base with your new contact, mentor, and friend.

An informational interview can be a great strategy in your career development or job search process. But knowing when to ask, who to ask, how to ask, and how to pull it off can be tricky. Contact me if you might benefit from networking coaching or an interview prep session.

Preparing for life after teaching

About 1/3 of my clients work in the field of education (K-12 or higher education); it’s a natural fit since I have 10 years of experience in higher education and have also worked with K-12 students.  Some of my clients want to transition out of teaching; others are determined to stick with education.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Teaching is a career field most people feel passionate about–at least initially. Many educators feel exhausted after several years of managing a classroom full of students, though, and some opt to pursue a whole new career path. Some teachers retire early to pursue new careers. Other teachers transition out of teaching after only a few years of teaching; they discover that teaching wasn’t quite what they’d hoped it’d be.

 

If you’re a teacher, and you’re unsure whether you want to continue teaching, you should begin training and preparing yourself for what lies ahead… even if you’re not certain what lies ahead. Whether you renew your teaching contract this year or not, taking these three action steps will strengthen your resume, boost your confidence, and provide you with networking leverage if you search for jobs in the future.

  1. Develop one technical/hard skill in an area of interest unrelated to education.

Even if you’re sure you want to continue teaching right now, developing a technical skill unrelated to teaching will benefit you. Putting your mind to work on a topic unrelated to your students can actually help you relieve mental stress and anxiety. Taking an online course in photo editing or SEO can stretch your mind; you’ll become a well-rounded teacher, and who knows? Maybe you’ll have an opportunity to incorporate what you learn into the classroom.

If you have an inkling you may want to search for jobs outside of teaching, brainstorm about which career fields interest you. Are you considering looking for jobs in curriculum design, training, or sales? Enroll in a local public speaking course or reach out to a career coach for communication skills development assistance. Many community colleges and libraries also offer free workshops. You don’t have to invest much of your income to learn a new skill.

  1. Identify three soft skills you’d like to improve and focus on improving one at a time.

Which soft skills matter most to you personally? Which soft skills matter most within your chosen career field (education or your future field)? A little research, coupled with self-assessment to determine which soft skills you currently possess and which soft skills you currently lack, should help you determine which soft skills to focus on developing.

Create an action plan to develop one soft skill at a time. Don’t even think about working on more than one thing at a time—you’ll feel overwhelmed, and you’ll give up.

If you prefer working alone and roll your eyes when your principal mentions breaking into groups during in-service training, working on teamwork and collaboration skills might be a good idea. Collaboration is hot in the workplace now; you’ll need to convince employers—with actions, not words—that you are very comfortable working well with others. Develop your teamwork skills now, and when you begin interviewing for jobs in a few years, you won’t be grasping at straws when asked for an example of a time when you collaborated with your coworkers to solve a problem.

  1. Spend 30 minutes networking twice weekly with people outside of teaching.

In education, we often work in silos. We work in separate classrooms, teaching our own students, and sometimes—without meaning to—we don’t share information or stories or successes with one another.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Break out of your silo, whether you’re going to transition out of teaching or not, and spend 30 minutes twice weekly networking with people outside of teaching. If you already have professional contacts online or offline, reach out to them. Schedule visits after work. Meet for coffee or iced tea and chat about summer vacation plans.

 

Do you know someone who works in a career field which has always interested you, but you don’t know every detail? Break down and call that person and ask for an informational interview. Most people love to talk about themselves and their careers. If meeting face-to-face intimidates you, start by networking online. Develop your LinkedIn and Twitter profiles. Both offer plenty of opportunities to connect with real people via professional groups and chats.

Ultimately, the worst thing you can do is teach for 5, 10, or 30 years without considering that someday you might want to transition out of teaching. We’re only human; even if we expect to work in the classroom our whole lives, sometimes a career is only for a season. And that’s okay.

Be smart and teach yourself to prepare for life beyond the classroom. Someday you’ll thank yourself.

If you need assistance finding a new teaching job or transitioning out of teaching, I’m happy to help.

5 ways to connect with alumni at networking events

If you’re a college student or recent graduate, and you’re not connecting with alumni from your college or university (or alma mater) at networking events, you’re skipping over one of the most valuable networking resources available to you.

Alumni care about helping you. You already share something in common so you’ll find it easy to strike up conversation. And most of the time, your college or university hosts networking events on campus, in the community, or even virtual networking groups/chats online. There’s no reason to sit back and observe any longer. Here are five ways to start connecting with alumni.


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Don’t be intimidated by alumni.

Alumni often have earned impressive job titles, have years of experience under their belts, and have polished their soft skills. Don’t let those things intimidate you (or at least pretend you’re not intimidated when networking with alumni). Believe in your gut that alumni want the best for you. They do. Sure, they attend alumni events to network with other alumni. They also attend alumni networking events to network with college students and to give back, to share their experience, and to mentor others.

Spend more time talking to alumni than to your fellow students.

It’s easier to chat with other college students than to launch into your elevator pitch seven times while shaking hands with alumni. It’s also probably less lucrative in terms of ROI. You’ll invest the same amount of time at the networking event talking to other students as you will talking to alumni. Why not invest that time talking to professionals who may add long-term significant value to your current or future job search?

Connect with alumni online immediately following networking events.

During your job search, if you don’t apply for job openings within 72 hours after positions are posted, your chances of being considered drop considerably. The same goes for following up after networking events. Reach out to new connections within 24 hours after networking events if possible. Send an email or invitation to connect on social media. Personalize your greeting whenever possible because at networking events, alumni meet multiple people and may not remember every college student’s name or face.

Consider asking alumni for advice or to serve as mentors.

If you meet someone and make an immediate, genuine, strong connection, don’t be afraid to invite that person for coffee and visit about the possibility of mentorship. Finding a mentor is key in the early stages of your career, and workplace mentors are not the same as career mentors. How great would it be if you could identify a career mentor while still in college? Even if you’re not sure you want to ask someone to serve as your mentor, there’s no harm in asking someone for an informational interview or running a few questions by a person who has great bits of advice to share. Be sure to meet in neutral, public locations and to arrive on time, respecting the other person’s work schedule and/or personal time.

Follow up and say thank you.

No matter what, follow up and say thank you. There’s no act of kindness too small that you should ever brush it off. Always say thank you. The same goes for following up. If you’re timely, gracious, and grateful when networking, you will rarely fail to make and maintain genuine relationships.

If you need help building your networking skills, preparing an elevator pitch, or understanding the ins and outs of mentoring or informational interviews, reach out to me for a free consultation.