Become A CPA

Become A CPA

The Most Underrated Tool for Career Success

by Monette Anderson, WSCPA Academic Relations Coordinator | Mar 17, 2015

Young man shakes hands at interview
©iStock.com/mediaphotos

So, you fancy yourself a savvy job hunter? Maybe you stay on top of research and trends in the profession, have 472 LinkedIn connections, and pore over websites to learn more about the companies you’re interested in. What if I told you there was something you could be incorporating into your career search that offers both networking and occupational information? 

This top secret weapon is the informational interview, and your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to impress your connection at the company and gain valuable intel that could help you land a job there. Just a few of the benefits of engaging in this practice are to:

  • Build a professional network and support team/mentors.
  • Get a real introduction to the culture of a firm or company of interest.
  • Access the most up-to-date career information and job opportunities (according to the Wall Street Journal up to 80% of jobs are never advertised).
  • Gain valuable interview experience and visibility.         
  • Obtain feedback on your resume/job-search goals.

Steve Davis is a Networking and  LinkedIn Coach who shares an anecdote he’d heard early on in his career. According to the story, a wise mentor made a practice of offering his recent college graduates $100. The mentor instructed them to take the money, find someone who was doing the job they hoped to do someday, and simply treat them to dinner. While at dinner, they were to learn as much as they could about this person’s career, passions, and interests. They were not to ask for a job, but instead just listen and learn. They were to continue to do this until they’d used the $100 dollars. The mentor then said, “If you do not get a job offer before using the $100, come back and I’ll give you another $100.”

$100 may not get you as far as it used to, but use these tips to ace your own informational interview:

  • Build a list of contacts: Start by making a list of everyone you know, including those first and second degree contacts. Then, make a list of people you’d like to know and see if you can start with some warm introductions through your current network. Try searching through your alumni network or professional membership organizations of which you are a member, like the WSCPA. Remember, there’s no one you can’t try contacting.
  • Make the call: Call your contacts and ask for no more than 30 minutes of their time for an in-person interview. If you have a warm lead or alumni connection or are both WSCPA members, be sure to let them know, as it will create an immediate connection. E-mail is an option, but you are less likely to make it to the top of their priority list. A phone call is a great touch. Also, research shows the best time to ask for a favor is on Fridays, and you should try to avoid Mondays. If you don’t hear back in about a week, it’s okay to follow up one more time. But if you don’t get a response after that, move on. You don’t want to risk being perceived as a pest.
  • Be prepared: Start to do as much research about the company and person as possible. You’ll want to have at least 5 thoughtful and intelligent questions ready, including questions about the interviewer’s career path and background. Also, make sure you have as much information about the company or firm as possible.
  • The Interview: Dress to impress. Remember that you are trying to impress this person and possibly get a lead on a future career opportunity. Be prepared to spend 10-15 minutes focusing on questions about their background and experience. Be mindful of time and keep the meeting to 30 minutes maximum. You are asking for advice, not a job, so don’t confuse this for a job interview. Do bring a copy of your resume in case they offer to give you feedback or pass it along—but be sure they initiate it.
  • Keep it going: Don’t leave the interview without asking for another person to contact. If they decline to offer another name, don’t take it personally—their reputation is on the line. Instead, ask what they recommend as the next steps you should take.
  • Follow up: Be sure to thank them within 24 hours, and consider sending a thoughtful gift. Also, keep them in the loop if you schedule a follow up with someone they recommend or land a job or big interview because of their help. People always remember how you make them feel, so this touch will leave a more lasting impression and may pay it forward to the next person who contacts them asking for their time.

Sources: Forbes.com “How to Land and Ace an Informational Interview”; Quintessential Careers Informational Interviewing Tutorial, Linkedin.com/pulse: Steve Davis “The Power of the Informational Interview."

Monette Andersonby Monette Anderson
WSCPA Academic Relations Coordinator
manderson@wscpa.org

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