Footprints in the Snow

We always try to address topics of broader interest to career changers in this blog.  By and large, this means exploring “personas” that we run into repeatedly—whose issues we understand and whose career challenges we can help ameliorate.  We’ve been doing this for three decades, so, of course, we have learned a thing or two about helping executives clarify their career objectives and then go out and get that perfect job.

We are different from others in this space in several key ways.  One is our Clarity Program© that constitutes the “Targeting” stage of our five-stage career change program.  After all, our clients’ aspirations are far more complicated that just a title, salary, and geography.  The Clarity Program© treats clients as the unique individuals they are.

Another key differentiator is that fully 75% of our clients land not via on-line job boards or recruiters but via the “unpublished market” where the competition is less and the remuneration is typically higher.

The Information Interview

One key skill in navigating the unpublished market is the “information interview”—a telephone or face to face discussion with someone you have probably never met before who has been introduced by a mutual acquaintance.  At various stages in my career I have had to conduct hundreds of these.  Recently, during some career coaching sessions, I realized that the techniques I have evolved are extremely helpful to neophytes, so let me share a few of these here.

The first is what I call a branching script.  As you approach a conversation with someone whose background you might know, but about whom you otherwise know very little, consider the subjects that might be of mutual interest and how you might introduce them in a gentle manner.

For example, when I was in the business coaching business not too long ago, I often found myself having networking discussions on the telephone with people who had no real idea why we were planning to talk.  My branching script then began something like this: “There could be several topics of interest between us.  For example, do you know business owners who are struggling and would benefit from a highly experienced and confidential advisor, or do you know individuals who might be thinking about transitioning in their careers and who might like to become business coaches, or who would I know that you might like to meet, or…” You may be surprised, but more often than not, my counterparts would say something like, “Actually, number 1 and number 3 sound relevant… Let’s explore.”  For an information interview, that is a wide-open door.  So consider preparing a branching script before you start an otherwise unplanned networking discussion.

Another technique that seems to work well is to visualize your discussion as a sort of radar diagram with radiating spokes representing different perspectives on the subject.  For example, let’s say you are planning to talk with the CEO of a larger business, not specifically about getting a job there, but more generally to understand what occupies that person and tangentially where you and he/she might have common interests—the classic information interview.

So in this case, one of the spokes on your radar graph might be what customers want from the CEO.  Another might be what consumers want.  Or employees.  Or vendors.  Or shareholders.  Or the CEO him- or herself…  In other words, by walking around the periphery of his or her business, you can get a very good understanding of how that person sees his or her world, where the challenges are and where there may be opportunities.  Ultimately, this provides you with insights on how you might position yourself to address those challenges or take advantage of those opportunities were you to join that company or perhaps a competitor in the same industry.

My personal mental image of this process is from a bird’s eye view, looking down on my footprints in the snow as they slowly encircle the subject matter.  It helps me make sure I have covered all of the perspectives I planned to cover, and lets me know when I’m finished. I hope you find these insights helpful and invite you to get in touch if you feel you could benefit from further career coaching… or just for an information interview.

Peter Irish
The Barrett Group

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