By Frances Bridges
The first blog post I wrote was about my biggest wastes of time while I was unemployed. Number three was, “Don’t write a million cover letters.”Conversely, the best use of my time was reaching out to contacts to set up informational interviews.
According to the UCLA career center an informational interview is, “a highly focused information gathering session with a networking contact designed to help you choose or refine your career path by giving you an ‘insider’ point of view.”
I used informational interviews to build relationships more than career shop. I used them to understand the community in my industry and create the opportunity for myself to make memorable impressions on people.Conducting informational interviews eventually led to the writing gigs I have today-not writing cover letters. Here are four reasons why informational interviews are more valuable than cover letters.
1. It is your chance to say everything you can’t in a cover letter
A good cover letter is no more than about 300 words. The longer it is the less likely a recruiter will be obliged to read it. It’s really, really hard to say everything you have to offer a company as a person and as a professional in that short of a paragraph ( and say something that everyone else hasn’t said).
Anything in person is more powerful than paper. By having a substantive and stimulating conversation with someone to illustrate you’re passionate, informed, smart and pleasant to work with is what will make people remember you. Conveying that in a 300 word cover letter is exceedingly difficult.
Don’t email in applications, cross your fingers and hope things happen. Skip the line and ask for the one-on-one time the other applicants are hoping their cover letter gets them.
2. It is a networking tool
Going to networking events is contrived and awkward. You and your parents only have so many friends. And if you ever find yourself in a new city with no family, no friends and no connections informational interviews is one way to scrape a network together.
One of the most cliché phrases in the workplace is, “it’s who you know.” In today’s economy it is more relevant than ever with the job market as competitive as it is.
The more people you build meaningful relationships with in an industry, the more people know who you are. When you go to the same events, have the same LinkedIn connections, have a presence on social media platforms and do great work people begin to talk about you. When people talk about you, you see results.
Want to learn how to conduct an effective informational interview? You can read a good blog post from the New York Times here.
3. You get help
Sending in a resume and a cover letter doesn’t get you squat usually. An informational interview gets you perspective, insight, and sometimes invaluable advice about how to get a job.
One of the truest things a friend of mine told me about informational interviews was, “If people are willing to meet with you, they’re willing to help you.” When people agree to meet with you, it is your job to take advantage of that time and tell them how they can help you.
Most people won’t be in a position to give you a job. But if they’re well connected they may know someone who can. It is your responsibility to ask them who they know, and if they’re willing to connect you with someone they think can be helpful.
4. It Helps You Find A Mentor
Sometimes informational interviews are successful, sometimes they aren’t and you walk away. But the best ones are when you meet people who anoint you as a chosen one, then teach you everything they know. One of the women who did this for me was Susannah Breslin.
Since then Susannah has taught me a lot of things I needed to know. She taught me how to effectively pitch a story, negotiate my salary and to not be afraid to write about my most personal, gut-wrenching life experiences. I would not be in the professional position I am today without Susannah.
Jobs come and go, but mentors are forever. Appreciate them, love them and be grateful for the time and energy they have invested in you, because it is a treasure. And one that a cover letter will never, ever get you.