Michaela Rankins - UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

The pre-interview: How to get your foot in the door

Michaela Rankins - UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

Michaela Rankins (BSBA ’16)

The job-recruiting season is a tough one, full of endless applications, nervous sweats and tireless nights of interview preparation. Many individuals easily progress through each step of the process, but others are not so lucky. Some who think they would be perfect candidates for certain positions may not even get a chance to interview. After applying for numerous positions, they receive little to no response from recruiters. I am here for those individuals: to teach you how to not only get in the door, but also how to thrust it wide open.

Each job offer I received came from companies where I had internal contacts pushing for me from within. In fact, according to a Business.com article, 24.5 percent of external hires come from referrals. (See Exhibit 1 from their article.) Of course everyone says that networking is key – and it is – but what is most important is how you leverage your networking relationships for your benefit. The secret tool that takes these relationships to the next level are what are formally known as informational interviews.

Exhibit 1

An informational interview is a meeting featuring a conversation about a particular company or industry between you and someone who may be in a position to help you get a job in the future. They may sound simple but, in fact, you need to execute them with great strategy. I am going to walk you through five essential steps that will help you to not only land an informational interview but also get a head start on how to excel in your formal job interview.

Rally your network.
The first step is to actually find someone to connect with. Whether a person from LinkedIn, a family friend, a contact from a conference or an individual from a company information session, find someone to target for your informational interview. Be sure to nurture the relationship so that your contact genuinely takes interest in taking the time to speak with you or connect you to his or her colleagues. If the relationship is too surface level, it may not yield much benefit.

Research the company/role.
The second step is basically ensuring that you have adequately researched the company and/or the role that you are pursuing. The individual you contact for your interview will want to see that you are actually interested and did your homework prior to speaking. Your contact probably has a very busy schedule, and it will not reflect well if you are asking questions that have answers listed on the company website.

Reach out!
This step is critical. Whether you decide to request your informational interview by email or phone, the following are main points that you should communicate:

  • Personal info: name, classification, university, major
  • Connection point: how you received his or her contact information
  • Position/industry of interest
  • Meeting you desire: in-person meeting or phone conversation
  • Time frame: 30 minutes to one hour

Be sure to also thank the contact for his or her time and end with a friendly salutation.

Have questions ready.
This step comes into play after you have already set up a meeting or phone conversation. When you meet up with your contact, you must be prepared to guide the conversation and know exactly what you want to get out of the informational interview. Here are some examples of questions that may be helpful:

  • Tell me more about your background. How did you develop an interest in and break into this field?
  • What educational or job experiences helped you get to this point in your career? How did you secure this job?
  • What are the core competencies necessary to break into and succeed in this industry?
  • What would you say distinguishes your employer from its competitors? How would you describe its culture?
  • Is there a typical career path? What does it look like? How does one move ahead or up?
  • How does your employer or team measure success? What are the traits of successful employees?

Request action.
After your interview takes place, request follow-up action to prolong the conversation or help you advance in your job search. The following questions will help get you thinking about which actions are right for you:

  • Could you offer any insight on how I can further tailor my resume to better position myself for this industry?
  • Do you know of additional resources and/or anyone else I should connect with to learn more?
  • How would you recommend someone apply for an internship with your organization?

After you complete these steps, you’ll likely land and conduct a successful informational interview. This interview will not only be insightful for you but will also position you well against other candidates. You will not only have a point of contact to reference while you apply and during your interviews, but you will also get a feel for the company culture and have a great deal of inside knowledge that others don’t.

So what are you waiting for? Get your foot in the door and start leveraging your network now!

By Michaela Rankins (BSBA ’16)

This post has been republished with permission from the author. View the original post here.

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