The one power move that you can do today, if you are not even sure if you want to go back to work or not, is an informational interview.
These informal meetings are fabulous for reconnecting with colleagues and building new relationships with professionals in your field. They are just so wonderful for honing what you want to do. I found that they worked well because they were not “loaded”- I wasn’t asking them for a job, merely for information. People want to help, and build their network.
Benefits of Informational Interviews:
• You feel energised and “back in the room”
• You learn loads about the industry today and how it has changed
• You can make new contacts who could start looking out for you
• You learn new language and hear about types of opportunities available
• You can “name drop” when you are out and about and sound current
The people you would ask would be: NOW people (family, friends, people from courses you are doing or volunteering with) PAST people in your chosen field, (ex-colleagues, competitors, vendors, advisors, people who were junior to you) and then you can work up to FUTURE people e.g an industry leader or prospective hirers (see below for approaching someone you don’t know).
Once you have established a list of people to contact, set up an organisational system to help you keep track of correspondence and learning, as below. You may want to use Google Sheets to arrange contact information and make notes about interactions, including how you found your contact, when you met, and what you discussed.
Approaching Someone You Don’t Know
Getting the meeting: It is so much easier now because of social media. As Naomi Oluleye says in her podcast, you can contact people through their Instagram or DM them on Twitter and tell them you admire them. She says, and I believe too, that if people have a message to get out, they will talk to anyone.
Perhaps you could say that you would like to write an LinkedIn article/cover them in an article for a trade website/your blog. Explain that you would like to know what is like working in their industry. Don’t be daunted. People are nice! I can’t believe who will talk to me now that I have a podcast. People want to talk about what they care about so why shouldn’t it be with you? Alternatively, you could have been at the same networking event. Any sort of common ground is good.
If it is someone you don’t know, show that you’ve done your research. You are a student of theirs! Don’t just explain that you want some information in a general way: Instead of “I’d like to learn more about make-up artistry” make it specific to them e.g “I saw your article on eco-friendly cosmetics and that your make-up has minimal packaging. I was really inspired by your passion in the area”.
I would ask for a very brief chunk of their time. Twenty or thirty minutes is much easier to pop into the diary as a phone call or quick coffee than lunch so you will be closer to a “yes”. Explain that you are in “information-gathering” mode. You’re fascinated by their industry and what it’s like to work in it. You can send them some sample questions, as I do when I’m asking someone if they will do a podcast. If it’s an email or LinkedIn message (LinkedIn really is a dream for this) “I would be grateful to have 20-30 minutes of time to chat about your perspective of the industry, learn more about your company and the work you do and tell you why I’m interested in make-artistry. I can be available to meet you wherever is convenient for you.”
• Say “Pick your brain” – too Hannibal Lecter
• Assume they have time to see you this week
• Cancel last minute and ask to reschedule
• Attach the CV unless they ask
• Email one person per company- make them feel special
It is classy to send a follow up thank you email the next day- bonus points for an additional follow up email a few months later that demonstrates you acted on their advice.
Do send a meeting request to make sure it’s in the calendar – this shows you’re proactive and organised.
This really will open up your world of possibilities. In the next part, I’ll walk you through some questions.