Q. “I’ve read about interviewing for information. But after working for many years, I don’t feel comfortable calling up strangers to ask for help.”
A. I would agree with you.
The first edition of What Color Is Your Parachute rolled out over 30 years ago. Millions of people discovered a revolutionary technique known as Interviewing for informatio
Ever since, we’ve been getting guidance like, “People are bored in their jobs. They feel flattered when someone calls to ask for information. They’re happy to take fifteen minutes to help.”
Alas, these days people may be bored, but they’re also busy. More and more, you need a referral to get past the gatekeepers.
So I recommend starting with soft networking. Meet strangers in a friendly, low-key setting and you’ll benefit from the principle of Six Degrees of Separation.
(1) Alumni groups. If you attended college (even if you didn’t graduate), your alumni office most likely will share a directory. Even Scrooge-y types like me will return calls from fellow alums who ask about life in Seattle or New Mexico. Don’t forget high school, graduate school and professional groups.
(2) Lunch and dinner meetings. Many associations host meetings where you can make low-key contacts. Just in the past few months, I’ve attended functions with a business owner group and an MBA alumni group where visitors openly asked for career change help.
It’s hard to predict where you’ll find success. I recently connected a job seeker with someone in a field where I have no experience, just based on a casual conversation with a neighbor who just found a great job in that field.
(3) Social groups and friends.
Connections get made at dog parks, parties, personal interest groups, cooking classes, and more.
As you use these sources:
- Keep conversation casual and low-key. Just say, “I’m looking for information about job opportunities in Albuquerque” or, “I’ve been looking for a position in project management.” And wait.
- Ask for information, not advice. Avoid selling yourself, but it’s okay to end with a request for referrals.
- When calling business owners who sell their time, respect the boundaries. More than 15 minutes? You need a paid consultation.
- Take a few minutes to send a follow-up and a thank you email.“Thanks for referring me to Ken. We have a meeting set up for next week.”(Of course Ken gets a thank you note too, but you already knew that, right?)
- End the suspense. Send an outcome report to everyone who helped. “After talking to six people, I decided to accept a job with… Thanks again for referring me to Ken. He was very helpful.”