How to take the stress out of arranging informational interviews

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you’ll know that I am a strong advocate of the informational interview as one of the most important tools in the job seeker’s toolbox.  I believe this is especially true for job searches in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sector, because talking to people provides a much better opportunity to share your knowledge and enthusiasm than a resume or online job application can provide.  There is an enormous amount of research proving that informational interviews are far more effective at leading to job offers than almost any other job search method.

However, I also know that there’s a reason that people don’t use this method very often: it can be terrifying.  For many people, just the idea of calling up a stranger to ask for help with a job search is enough to send stress levels through the roof. They’re afraid they’ll get yelled at for bothering someone, make a bad impression, and blow their chance at a better life.

Well, I know how you feel.  In my former life as a pharmaceutical headhunter, and in my current career in business development, I have cold-called thousands of biotechnology industry professionals.  Believe it or not, I have done this despite the fact that I’m basically pretty introverted.  Making these calls hasn’t ever been easy — but I’ve developed strategies that have helped me develop a career based on my success at this task.  Here are a few things you should try:

  1. Start with a script. Write down what you’re going to say. Keep it simple – don’t use big words where a small one will do – and keep it conversational in style. Practice reading it out loud, and if it doesn’t feel natural, change it up. I’d suggest starting with something like this: “Hi, my name is ___. I’m hoping you could help me. I’m just looking to get my start in the pharmaceutical industry, and I’m trying to learn more about careers in ____. I wonder if we could schedule a 10 or 15 minute call so I could ask you a few questions about your job and the kind of work you do.”
  2. Practice makes perfect. Practice reading your script until you get comfortable with it. You shouldn’t be trying to memorize it – just getting familiar with the rhythm and the idea of saying these things out loud, so it doesn’t feel awkward when you do it for real. Call up your own voicemail and practice saying it into the phone. Call up your friends and try it out on them. By the time you speak to a ‘real’ contact, this should feel like a conversation you’ve had a thousand times before.
  3. Lower the risk. Use skype, or a cheap long distance plan, and make your first few calls to companies in another state. You’re unlikely to ever actually apply for a job there, so it won’t matter if you stumble or lose your nerve. When you do start making calls to companies of interest, start with the ones that interest you the least. By the time you work your way up to the people you really want to impress, you’ll be far more comfortable — and you’ll be able to show off some of what you’ve learned from your previous calls.
  4. Lower the risk – 2. Start by calling people in more junior roles. You’ll be able to learn a lot from them, but they won’t really be in a position to make or break your career. If you’re lucky, they’ll still remember the challenges of starting out and will be more willing to share their time with you as a result. However, on the flip side, be aware that more junior people often don’t have as much flexibility with their time.
  5. To begin, just schedule. Your goal with this initial call will not be to have the full conversation – it’s just to set a time for that conversation. This will give you more time to prepare, and takes the pressure off your contact because you’re not expecting them to drop everything right away.

Basically, that’s it.  If you’re comfortable, and polite, I think you’ll find that people are nicer, and much more receptive than you might expect.

Once you do score an informational interview, there are plenty of guides online that will give you suggestions for getting the most out of it. For me, the key points are to keep it short and to the point – aim for no more than 15-20 minutes; use the interview as an opportunity to clarify your understanding – which is a chance to show off what you already know; DON’T directly ask for a job – this is a violation of the ‘social contract’ of an informational interview; and finally, DO ask for referrals to other people you can talk to.

Hope this has been helpful.  Good luck with your search!

Posted: July 6th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Informational interviews, Interviewing | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

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