Keys to Job Interview Preparation

Avoid These Mistakes Preparing for Job Interviews

It’s easy to overprepare or underprepare for a job interview.  Here are 4 mistakes to avoid if you want to properly prepare with the least amount of stress.

Mistake 1.
rying to prepare answers to all the questions you can imagine.

There are no end to questions.  Some are common–tell me about yourself.  Where do you see yourself in 5 years…  Others are not.  If you look on websites with helpful lists of questions, you are likely to find 20, 30, 50 or more questions–most pretty good.  But forget about that.  Instead, focus mostly on preparing a few, solid, relevant stories that can be used to answer lots of questions.  Just make sure there are stories for key categories of questions.

Mistake 2.
Not having questions to ask about the specific company

If you can’t name the company’s products or services and come up with a few questions about them or about the company, your apparent lack of interest will result in a very real lack of job offers.

Recently, a client of mine mentioned a few key points about a tech company’s key product.  The interviewer then proceeded to quiz her to see if she could answer questions about the product that a customer might ask.  She knew it all.  She got the job. It wasn’t a very hard thing to do.  All she had done was read through the company’s website.  Not too much to expect from a potential employee.

Mistake 3.
Thinking it’s all about you.

The opposite is true.  Yes, you want to come off as wonderful.  But wonderful means you are meeting the needs of the people in the company.  That’s right.  It’s all about THEM.  What do they need?  How can you benefit them more than the other zillion applicants?

This relates back to overcoming mistake number 2, knowing about the company so you can say how you will help solve some of its problems or challenges (backed up by proof using one of the stories you prepared as mentioned in how to overcome mistake number 1).

Mistake 4.
Thinking interviews are all about having the right answers

Your resume and cover letter probably had enough of the right answers in the sense of showing you possess the right requirements.  Now is the time to focus on making a strong, positive connection with your interviewers.  If you can answer all the questions intelligently but seem distant or disinterested, you won’t be hired.  You need to relate to the people as people. The  content, while very important, is still secondary to showing you are a person who people will want to be with and work with 40 hours a week.

A Third Way-Beyond All or Nothing Career Solutions

If you are unhappy, then you are, unfortunately, not alone.  Only 45% of Americans are satisfied with their work. That was the lowest level recorded by the Conference Board research group in more than 22 years of studying the issue.

While income and health benefits were major factors in this, a key finding was that only 51% now find their jobs interesting — another low in the survey’s 22 years. In 1987, nearly 70% said they were interested in their work.  The researchers noted that lack of interest leads to lack of innovation, which further hurts the US economy.  Unhappiness at work in other studies has been connected with health issues.

When I read these kinds of statistics, I always wonder why.

Why are so many people staying in jobs that don’t satisfy or interest them?  Of course, I realize, especially now, the answer may be financial.  But my experience with clients tells me that this rarely if ever excludes starting to plan and take action toward long term (or short term) change.

One reason people get stuck and don’t change is that they get caught in a negative cycle with all-or-nothing thinking.  Either I stay in a lousy job that I don’t like but get some financial security or I go broke looking for something wonderful that may not happen. That may seem a bit extreme, but I would suggest if you don’t like your work, then you look at your own thinking and see if it doesn’t boil down to this kind of belief.

If so, take an alternative approach.  Use your current situation as a stable base to start planning and taking actions to move toward your dream job and career.  You don’t have to immediately quit your current job or job search in most cases.  Figure out what you’d love to do and either start applying for those kinds of jobs now or taking other actions to make that possible (volunteer in related activities, take classes, etc.)

In other words, don’t make yourself stuck between a rock and a hard place.  There are places between staying where you are and ditching it for a completely risky unknown future.  But you ‘ll never find out what those places are, let alone how close you can get to that exciting but risky future if you keep thinking how unsatisfied you are while assuming it’s too risky to change.

Career Success Secret?

I couldn’t resist writing a post today, having just read an inspiring article about the artist Carmen Herrera.   It seems Herrera has been a serious painter since the 1930s. Now at age 94, she’s suddenly famous, having had her first museum show 5 years back when she was a youthful 89.  Her “secret”: persistence borne of her love for painting.

In spite of more recent evidence, I think there remains the idea that if you don’t make it in your field by 30 or 40, you really can’t expect success. Now, if you’re trying out for the New York Yankees or most ballet companies (a few seem to be including older dancers), you can assume that before 40 you will definitely know if you are going to have the success you may have wanted.

But for most fields not dependent on an extremely high level of physical skills and performance, you may not need to give up on your dreams at any given age.  You may need to find other work for financial reasons–and that work can also be passionate, meaningful work, perhaps in a related field.  But you can also keep working on your dream goals part time in one way or another.

In Herera’s case, she never quit painting. She didn’t run after success, but kept doing her art with her vision, not making any attempt to fit the latest trends.   “I do it because I have to do it; it’s a compulsion that also gives me pleasure,” she said in a New York Times article  (read the full article here).  There’s the key–not whether others accept you for what you love, but your own sense of needing, loving to do something.

But there’s another secret less celebrated in our culture.  Herrera’s success like everyone else’s is also dependent on a support network, in spite of all the myths about individual triumph.   For instance, Herrera knew other artists and was supported always by her husband of 61 years (a NYC schoolteacher).  That network of supporters were also persistent.  In fact, the person who created a turning point for her, the artist Tony Bechera, had been a booster of hers since the 1970’s but only in 2004 did Bechera make a connection that led to the big break for Herera.

An artist had dropped out of a show of geometric female painters.  Bechera told the director of the museum with the show that he needed to add Herrera.  That director had never heard of her, but was convinced to look at her work and was amazed.  She was put in the show, and now some of her paintings are being sold for 40 thousand dollars.

The ‘secret’ of persistence is hardly unique to Herrera.  In fact, it is ensconced in traditional sayings and lore.  According to the NY Times article, Bechara toasted Herrera recently with a Puerto Rican saying:

“The bus — la guagua — always comes for those who wait.”

Herrera responded “Well, Tony, I’ve been at the bus stop for 94 years!”

Branding Yourself–Go the Extra Mile

Marketers need a targeted niche, but they also know their products and services need to stand out from other products in their niche.

You need the same approach whenever you are looking for a job or a promotion.  You need to make  yourself stand out as well in order to get a job in highly competitive fields.  Or to move ahead in an organization.  Or to help you define yourself for your own needs.

One traditional way to do this that still works is to go the extra mile for others.  Do just one or two more things (or one or two things to a higher level) than the typical person would do to complete your job tasks.

The only difference is that traditionally, this idea was often about working extra hard with extra hours, no matter how much you hated the extra work.  That’s not how I’m suggesting you do this.


Going the extra mile is what I’ve been seeing lately when I go to one food store where staff literally put down whatever they are doing and help customers find products or easily return items.  They walk you to the exact spot a product should be rather than just point and tell you aisle 5 on the left, can’t miss it.  They talk with you like a person and not someone to get rid of as quickly as possible.

I’ve talked to some of the staff there about their work, and it seems clear to me that they enjoy their work more because they do this, and it’s not a problem with their management.   In this case, the entire store stands out and is branding itself, but each person working there has learned a valuable lesson they can take anywhere and be a star performer.

Going the extra mile is when you’re in IT and really love to communicate your ideas to non-techies, so you figure out clever new ways to communicate all that geeky stuff by creating presentations that people understand and enjoy.  That can be your brand, how you go an extra mile to stand out.

For example, one person makes up silly presentations about tech subjects that do take him a little extra time over the usual boring talks, but he loves the creativity and performance elements, so it seems like LESS work and effort and MORE FUN.  It also means he is the go-to guy when presentations need to be handled.  This in turn means he gets to do more of them, which is a way he likes to spend his time.

Going the extra mile is being at a networking event and instead of just promoting yourself, you help others to network better.  It takes no more time.  It can be a lot of fun.  You can also relax more because you aren’t selling or pushing yourself.   You’ll also receive support and appreciation (in other words, you become more memorable than if you just self-promoted).  You can also take that approach to work trying to connect others and become branded as the go-to connector person.

Work Happier, Not Just Harder or Longer

To summarize, whatever you do, don’t just come up with things to make you work longer hours and drain your energy. We have plenty of that in our society. Going the extra mile by working overtime and hoping it will be appreciated is often a recipe for frustration and resentment.

So what should you do?
1. Brainstorm a dozen ways you could do something more than you’re now doing.  Have fun with it.  Ask others. These could be things you do once in a while or everyday things

2. Think about which you’d enjoy doing and would benefit others and your own performance.

3. Choose 1 or 2 ways, trying not to eat into your already busy schedule too much.  Don’t take over part of someone else’s job tasks or do something that clearly is showing up someone else.

4. Start doing it and see how you feel and how much what you’re doing is helping.

5. Jot down what you did and the results. This will add to your sense of accomplishment and will remind you later in detail if you need to draw on stories for presenting yourself during job searches or for promotions or to simply give yourself a motivating boost.

6. See if these activities start to help you rethink your brand, what you offer others, what you want to most do during work hours.  Maybe you are that geek who finds that making funny PowerPoints is what you really want to do.  You then create a job or consulting business around that.

7. Incorporate your successes into stories for job interviews, performance reviews, cover letters. Use your examples to show how you shine at work and aren’t just another reasonably competent, nice employee. Show how you have taken initiative. Ask references if they might include these positive actions in their recommendations.

Let me know what you try and how it works out!

Swing Dancing and Careers

My first swing dance teacher said that learning a relatively newer form of swing dancing–east-coast swing– was great for the short term, great for instant gratification.  A great place to start dancing because you could see real results pretty quickly.  You’d be out there on the floor, spinning and turning, going from closed to open positions.  A lot of fun, with a good amount of chance for growth.

But in the long run, she said, it was generally not fascinating and challenging enough if you really wanted to swing dance regularly for years.  It didn’t give you the same opportunities to play with the music, and didn’t have as many classic moves.

So do you just do east coast until you get bored?  Or do you go ahead and grit your teeth and go directly into lindy, knowing you may be pretty frustrated for quite a while on the dance floor?

Or maybe there’s a better way. You have 2 dance learning paths–you start learning east coast in order to get out on the dance floor with some success immediately, and well before that becomes less interesting, you also start learning lindy hop during practice time and classes.

So what does that have to do with careers?

Simple–many clients I see and people I talk with are stuck with the job equivalents of east coast dancing (or a “dance” they don’t like at all!) long after it has become unchallenging, predictable and lacking in opportunity to really show their stuff (grow, learn and express new skills and passions). They may well need help in finding some new moves for their east coast career options right now (translation: They need help with job issues or resumes, job interview skills, etc.), but for the long-term, they need to have something bigger in mind. They need a second set of career plans that let them dream big and work toward that dream now.

They may think they can’t do both, but in fact we do find ways for them to continue with their east coast dance for the short term AND be preparing themselves for lindy hop in the long term.  In other words, they can have two tracks going at once so that they don’t have to wake up one day ten years from now and realize their dream hasn’t happened and still seems 10 years away.

Tips for Long Term Career Action

Ask yourself what you can start doing this week to define, start testing out, or moving ahead with your ideal career even as you continue your current job or look for a new job similar to your last one.

  • First, figure out what you will want to be doing in 1, 5, or 10 years.  If you aren’t sure, check out some of the posts here for ways to do that, such as here and here.
  • If you already have some career ideas for the future:
    • Can you volunteer for an organization involved in the kind of work you’re interested in doing?
    • Can you do an informational interview with that shop owner who has a shop similar to what you’d like to do in a few years?
    • Can you find out about the educational options for becoming qualified in whatever field you’re interested in doing?
    • Are there internships you might get?
    • Are there books to read about doing your passion–photography, being an entrepreneur, a tour guide, a chef, a painter, a CEO of an engineering firm?

List all the things you can do over the next few months, and keep coming up with more steps until you are clear on what you want and have a general plan to achieve it.

In addition, blend your east coast (short term) and lindy plans too.  In other words, make sure what you are doing in the short-term also will help you in your long term plans by:-

  • Taking courses
  • Getting mentored
  • Learning about management styles
  • Gaining the skills you need
  • Making contacts.

By going along both paths, you can get instant success with your current work, make that help you for your bigger dream, and begin acting on that bigger dream now.   My clients get much more motivated with this than with just doing a new resume for a so-so job that they know isn’t their dream.  They are flat-out happier as they do that east coast swing dance while figuring out the steps for the lindy-hop future.

–Career changers, jobseekers–Be sure to sign up for free career and creativity ezine and get your career info bonus

© 2009 Leonard Lang. Feel free to reprint or pass on this article as long as you include the copyright notice and the hotlink to

How to Succeed with Coaching

THINKING OF CAREER COACHING?  Here’s what you need before the first session to assure success.

In my coaching practice (including leadership as well as career coaching), I find the greatest success comes when clients come to coaching prepared in three ways. 

The 3 factors for success:

1.  Commitment to action and change
2.  Time to do the work
3.  Clarity about what you want from coaching

You can be doubtful or frustrated.  You can be fearful of change.  But if you are committed, you will typically be able to get through all these obstacles either alone or with the support of a good coach.

I don’t have a set number of hours someone needs to work each week between sessions to succeed.  Everyone is different.  Every situation unique.  That’s what’s so fascinating and useful about coaching–it’s not a cookie cutter approach.  But you are probably wasting a lot of good money if you don’t do some homework between sessions, enough to make noticeable progress and generate new questions for your sessions. 

If you don’t know what you want how will you get it?  You can use early coaching sessions to refine, clarify or reshape your goals.  But do as much prework on this as possible.

How ready are you?  Answer the 3 questions now:

  1. On a scale of 1–10 how would you rate your commitment to succeeding with your career goals?
  2. How much time would you devote each week to achieving those goals?
  3. What is your primary goal right now?

If you had an 8, 9 or 10 for the first question, at least a few hours per week for the second (more if it’s working on a complex career plan), and you have a specific goal you want to accomplish, you are a great candidate for success with coaching if that’s what you decide to do. 

If not, and you feel you’d like to move ahead, try asking yourself these questions:

  1. What’s holding you back on your commitment?
  2. How you can find more time or prioritize career matters higher
  3. What do you really want with your career/job? What help do you need to get there?

Answering those you will be ready to move ahead solo or with professional support.

© 2009 Leonard Lang


But Is It Realistic? How People Kill Career Dreams

Whether helping people as a career coach or a creativity trainer, one of the most common self-limiting ideas I hear—actually it may be the most common—is that a goal, a career, a job, a solution is unrealistic.

And with that one word, all hope is dashed.   All creativity also goes out the window—you can almost hear it flying off.
I find the idea of something being unrealistic is one of the most abused terms, often an unconscious excuse to bail out of something due to fear of failure, rather than an honest and full assessment of what can be done.  That’s one of the many reasons I start out every brainstorming group and every career client by having them put aside what’s realistic (to them) for starters and have them start imagining what they’d really want to do if they could have what they wanted.
Be Realistic Later Rather Than Sooner

Later, we can see how to make it real and what the real obstacles are.  Even then, I work with clients and groups to look creatively for new ways to get past obstacles, rather than just letting ourselves get us stuck, assuming there is no way because we can’t see it right away.

This way of approaching career dreams is simple but critical. You find your big ideas, dreams and wildest ideas first, and then see try every way to make them work out.  Tha’s very different from the model most people use—assuming their big ideas are unrealistic from the get-go, based on their limited current thinking.

Some people would respond to this approach by telling stories about how reality has knocked down their plans and big ideas when they were being creative and open minded.  That certainly happens at times.  But it just tells me that we don’t really know what will happen in advance until we try things out—until we see if we can achieve the apparently unrealistic goal.  After all, none of us has a big enough mind to see all the ways things can work out—for better or worse.  Since there are always unknowns, it’s best to creatively work towards your goals and see what arises that might help you that’s unknown than to assume things won’t work.  As they say in baseball, “that’s why we play the game.”

–Career changers, jobseekers–Be sure to sign up for free career and creativity ezine and get your career info bonus

© 2009 Leonard Lang. Feel free to reprint or pass on this article as long as you include the copyright notice and the hotlink to


What’s at the Top of Your Resume?

What should go at the top of your resume under your name and contact info?

A.  Your Education?
B.  Your most recent work experience?
C.  Your objective–the kind of job you are seeking?

Answer–None of the above.

Why?  Because right at the beginning you need to give your resume a direction, a focus, a theme which a potential employer can skim and know what to look for in the rest of the resume.

You also need to show that you know your strengths and how they relate to the job you are seeking.
You also need to include those keywords and phrases that computers will use if they are the first level of screening.

The section that does all that is your profile or highlights of qualifications section.  You don’t want the others first because:

A.  Your education is generally very old hat, unless you just finished college.  Even if you did just graduate, if you have solid interning and volunteer or work experience, education may not go to the top. If you worked for at least a few years, it really belongs at the end.

B.  Your work experience goes after the profile and is the source of the profile highlights,t he explanation and proof of them.

C.  Your objective has been replaced in recent years by a profile.  Employers reading dozens or hundreds of resumes and cover letters aren’t going to be impressed or very interested that you want a “challenging management position where leadership and self-starter skills are essential.” Yet that’s the kind of pabulum that traditionally is written for the objective statement.

Instead, look at what strengths you want to highlight in the details of your resume.  Then, repeat or summarize the best points in shortened fashion for your profile.  Just make sure these points touch on qualities, skills and experiences that the potential employer is seeking.


At the top of the profile, start with a title that matches the job you are looking for–yes, it is best to customize resumes for each job.  For instance, if the job is for regional sales manager and the keywords you need include: problem solver, entrepreneurial, minimum 5 years experience in sales management, your profile might look like:

Entrepreneurial Regional Sales Manager

  • Problem-solver with 10 years experience in sales management who developed new events to motivate demoralized regional sales force.  Event success resulted in company-wide adoption.
  • Entrepreneurial self-starter, opening new markets in 4 cities that resulted in 10 new clients for more than $250,000 of sales
  • Savvy manager who has successfully led small and large (25) sales forces, promoted 4 times in just 5 years for managerial skills

Then you would expand on each of these accomplishments in your specific work experience sections.

You can also consider adding a Skills or Key Competencies or Areas of Expertise section right after the profile information.  These too can be keyword rich according to the job description and your knowledge of what’s required for each job you seek. Again keep it specific—not just good communicator, but Consensus Builder or Conflict Resolution Expert or Motivator.

This is just one way to write a profile.  It could be more of a paragraph.  It could include more emotional terms– “passionate about…” but it needs to remain clearly focused and accomplishment oriented.  Remember that you are offering solutions to a particular employer, not reciting your history.

10 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your College Internship

Note from Leonard: From time to time, experts with something great to say ask if they can be included on this blog.  When their information will complement and add to the ongoing discussion here, I am excited to present them. Today’s post is from Rose Jensen about how college students can truly benefit from an internship. Rose offers a great list of specific tips.  These are mostly pretty simple to do yet can yield a lot of information and future benefit (plus make your internship more engaging and fun).

As a college student, one of the most valuable ways you can prepare for your career is to get an internship. Even if your internship doesn’t lead to the exact career path you end up choosing, you’ll gain hands-on professional experience, make contacts in the industry, learn a new set of marketable skills, and prove your reliability and commitment. Internships are also great ways to explore a field and determine whether or not you’d like to continue in that industry after graduation. But before you get too complacent just because you’ve been selected for an internship, check out these 10 tips for making sure you make the most out of your experience.

1.    Show up on time. Being punctual gets you huge points in the dependability department, and if you’re always available whenever your boss needs you, you can expect a great recommendation letter when you leave.

2.    Get to know everyone in the office. You might feel intimidated at first, but make a point to chat a little with each person in the office as a way of learning more about the industry and building up your contacts.

3.    Ask questions. Internships are learning experiences, so the more questions you ask about the industry in general and your specific to-do list, can only help.

4.    Set goals. Determine what you want to get out of the internship and set goals for achieving it. With a more focused outlook, you’ll be more efficient at achieving your goals.

5.    Be positive. Don’t kid yourself: interns often have to schlep papers, get coffee and do a lot of filing. Just be grateful that you’ve got something to add to your resume and an inside look at the job you may one day have.

6.    Take on more tasks. Even if it isn’t offered, don’t be afraid to take on greater responsibility and help out more in general if you can handle it. You’ll meet more people and demonstrate your capability.

7.    Send a thank you note. After your last day, send thank you notes to everyone you worked with in the office. It’s not always necessary, but going beyond what’s expected will ensure you leave on a positive note.

8.    Attend special events. Offer to help out at special events to increase your exposure and networking opportunities.

9.    Be professional. Even though everyone recognizes you’re still the college kid, acting professionally and as if you could fit into the office culture will help your chances of getting a job after you graduate.

10.    Ask for an exit interview. Spend a few minutes with your manager to go over your demonstrated strengths and weaknesses. This meeting will also help you figure out what to include on your resume.

Today’s guest blogger is Rose Jensen.  Rose writes about the best online universities. She welcomes your feedback at Rose.Jensen28@

Start Seeing Career Opportunities

Out of work?  Looking for a new career?  Then start seeing opportunities.

I just read about a fascinating experiment by psychology professor and bestselling British author Richard Wiseman, author of The Luck Factor: The Four Essential Principles

He wanted to see if people who had lucky lives and those who were unlucky responded differently to unexpected opportunity.

He put ads asking for people to respond who considered themselves exceptionally lucky or unlucky.  He wound up with 400 people over the years from 18 to 84 from all walks of life.  The lucky had stories about lucky meetings with famous people, like Warren Buffet, that changed their lives or chance encounters that led to their marriages.  The unlucky told about disasters like their planes being struck by lightning.

Yet through it all, Wiseman wondered if the lucky were DOING something differently from those who were unlucky.  In other words, they didn’t just have luck happen to them, they did things that led to luck    ”… Although lucky and unlucky people have almost no insight into the real causes of their good and bad luck, their thoughts and behavior are responsible for much of their fortune,” in Wiseman’s view according to an article he wrote about his experiment in The Skeptical Inquirer.

One factor was seeing more opportunities than others.

In an experiment, Wiseman gave volunteers a newspaper and asked them to count the number of photographs.   But inside the newspaper were unexpected opportunities—on page two he had a half page notice in 2-inch high type (hardly difficult to find), saying “stop counting—there are 43 photographs in the newspaper.”  The self-defined lucky people tended to find it, while the unlucky ones tended to miss it. Then, later in the paper there was another big announcement that said they should stop counting and tell the observer that they had seen this announcement to win $250.

You’d think that would get someone’s attention.  But not for the unlucky souls.

Wiseman concluded from this and other tests and experiments that the lucky people aren’t so focused on a single objective (like counting photos) so they can notice new and unexpected opportunities.  It’s the opposite of what we are usually told about getting ahead and certainly getting a job in a tough market.

His personality tests also showed that the unlucky were more anxious and tense.  Again, if you are in a job hunt or are desperate for a career change you are likely to have increased tension and anxiety as you do your job searching or career idea seeking activities.  As Wiseman writes, lucky people “look through newspapers determined to find certain type of job advertisements and as a result miss other types of jobs.  Lucky people are more relaxed and open, and therefore see what is there rather than just what they are looking for.”

The good news–Wiseman found he could help people understand this and 3 other factors, and that people understanding this led to improved luck.

In this case, the lesson is very clear for career changers and jobseekers (and everyone else, too).  It’s not to be distracted and unfocused. But it’s also not about always concentrating on opportunities and goals. Instead it’s about staying relaxed and open ,being willing and confident enough that what you are doing will produce something good—though your idea of what that is may be only one good outcome.

It’s not in his research, but from experience, I’d suggest it’s also about gently holding an intention in mind—for instance, to find out something that will help you with a career choice or to find a great job opening.  That intention doesn’t mean you are constantly waiting for every chance to hand out a business card or ask about career opportunities. Instead, it just prepares your mind to hear and see when the equivalent of the ad for the $250 prize shows up even though you are looking for photographs.

Get Answers to Questions about Specific Careers, Jobs

What’s the most direct way to get the inside scoop about the details of a specific career, an industry, a job, a company?

  • The internet?
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics?
  • Library databases?
  • Twitter?
  • Your best friends?

All of those are fine, but nothing beats the inside story from someone doing the job or hiring for the position you are considering.  How do you get that?

Just ask.  Ask for an informational interview.  It’s a no-cost powerhouse technique for getting up-to-date information.

With an informational interview you can find out:

  • What the opportunities are in an industry or companies
  • How to get into a field, job, or industry
  • What education or experience you might need
  • What’s the day to day like.   Many glamorous sounding fields have a lot of work that is not so glamorous (Even film superstars repeat small parts of scenes over and over).

Informational interviews are so great because you aren’t looking for a job during the interview, and the person you’re interviewing isn’t directly looking at you for hiring (though that might be a subtext).

In other words, whatever basic question you have about a career or job can be asked.

Who Can You Ask?

Use the broadest range of your network.  If no one in your network directly can answer the questions you have, ask them if they know anyone.  You’d be surprised at what you turn up.

You can also use social media, especially requests on LinkedIn or on Twitter.  You can also use LinkedIn to find people you don’t know but who are exactly the people you need.  Then see if you have anyone in your network who is directly connected with them.

Why will someone I don’t even know take the time to talk to me?  To answer a question with a question–would you take the time if someone asked you for just 20 minutes and sought out your advice and expertise without expecting anything else (like a job or reference)?   If you could fit such a request in, you probably would.

I know I have, and I’m not unusual because people I’ve asked have talked with me.

When Looking for Work (or More Clients)—My Experience

I’ve frequently been asked for informational interviews about coaching and training, and have enjoyed the discussions.  Hopefully, I at least gave the interviewer at least one point of view about the joys and obstacles in my field.

I’m currently going through a new round of interviewing people–not to change careers–but so I can learn how the changing health care environment might affect my leadership coaching and facilitation clients in health care.  I am also receiving invaluable information about the current hot buttons in health care, the language people are using, and how people look for services like mine.

Similarly, you can go on informational interviews that can extend your knowledge of how you can do a better job of looking for a job in a given field.  You can find out what people still need to hire for in your field, what kind of companies might be looking.  In addition, though you most definitely are NOT looking for a job during such an interview, you are almost automatically expanding your network.  It’s fine to let people know you’d like others to talk with and that you are looking for work just in case they do hear of something.

In other words it can be a solid part of your job search.  Of course, if they are impressed with you, they will remember you.  If they remember you, then if they or their company are looking for someone, you will have an advantage over other unknown applicants–or even be called in before any job posting.

Again, you are not directly seeking work during the interview, so don’t try to pretend you’re interested in an informational interview when you’re not or it will backfire.

In future posts, I’ll talk about how to conduct a successful job interview.  If you have experiences you’d like to share or questions, please add your comments to this story.  I’ll reply.

Test Drive Your Career Idea

I just read a fascinating if a bit utopian essay in New Scientist magazine about the possibility of creating virtual twins for each of us.  Our online twin would be programmed with all of our medical characteristics so that we would have a much better idea of what specific health care treatments will work for us as individuals, and what the long and short term effects would be.   It would be like giving different treatments a test ride before deciding on them.

Wouldn’t it be cool if we could have our virtual twin also test out different careers or jobs for us?  OK, no one’s working on this one just yet.  But for now, maybe we can take some steps that will help us decide what careers are best for us without having to invest in years of training and coursework as well as months or years in jobs and careers that don’t really engage us or feel meaningful to us.  Maybe we can give our careers a test drive first.

How to test out a career

1.  Information interviews—the classic best way to network and find out about jobs can also give you a sense of whether you would like a career path.  Not only do you learn about a job and career from someone in the field, you can also check out exactly what the interviewee loves and hates about the work.   If you do a good interview, you’ll be able to find out how similar that person is to you in their work preferences, passions, and dreams.  They don’t have to be just like you.   But wherever they are similar to you, that’s where to find out how well they love or hate their work and decide if that might be your response.

2.  Shadow (in a good way).  This technique might be a good follow-up to an informational interview that went well with someone you feel an affinity with.  Or it could be with someone else entirely.  Ask if you can shadow or literally follow them for a day or half day just to see what their job is actually like in the trenches.  This might be easier to pull off if you can do this as part of a school project.

3.  Volunteer or intern for work in a field you might be interested in.  You can find out what people actually do all day at their jobs and what the organization is like.  That can be quite eye opening.   You might find yourself very disillusioned about what goes on behind the scenes or you might find it thrilling.

4.  Pilot and prototype.  Ever thought you might like to be a travel agent?  Interior designer? Caterer?  For many consumer fields, you can test out your skills and interests with friends and family before launching into an actual job or your own business.

Learn about the field as much as you can (including perhaps being a client for someone else first) and then when you feel you can pilot your work, ask friends or family if they’ll be your guinea pigs.  You can play travel agent by helping to plan a complex trip or try interior decorating on a room in a friend’s house, etc.    

This isn’t like having a virtual twin test out the work, but it is a way to find out experientially how well the career or job will suit you.  It offers you a bit more of the nitty-gritty about a career than reviewing course descriptions about a field or reviewing your skills and seeing how they match with what’s needed.

–Career changers, jobseekers–Be sure to sign up for free career and creativity ezine and get your career info bonus

© 2009 Leonard Lang. Feel free to reprint or pass on this article as long as you include the copyright notice and the link to