7 Ways to Ensure Your Informational Interview Is Worthwhile For Each Person

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Sarah Landrum is the author of this article, which originally published on JobJenny

If flying on the wings of preparedness works for famous actor Will Smith, it can work for you, too. It’s obviously effective in Smith’s celebrity world, but preparation is also an excellent tool in a much more common setting: the realm of interviewing. Being ready and knowledgeable — having done research in advance — at an interview is among the single best methods to support your ultimately landing the job.

Here’s a great way to do that homework ahead of time: conduct informational interviews. Once you have the meeting set up, now it’s time to zero in on how to make the most of it.

1. Request The Interview Confidently

Informational interviews often require reaching out to strangers. When this is the case, it can feel uncomfortable, or as if you’re maybe being too bold.

Remember, however, that — so long as you don’t ambush them or ask for way too much at once — many professionals are happy to give other professionals a half hour of their time. They may even be flattered by your request for an informational interview (Have you ever met someone who doesn’t love talking about herself?) Don’t let fear stand in the way. Worst-case scenario? You ask and they say no (in which case you’ll move on to someone else). No big deal!

2. Keep It Short and Sweet

An informational interview should not be an all-day affair. You are taking time from someone else’s schedule, and you shouldn’t forget it. In fact, it might be wise to include your keep-it-short mentality in your initial request for an interview: “I am interested in a career change and wondered if I could steal 20-30 minutes of your time. I would like to ask some questions and learn more about your experience with company X” (or something like that).

Keep a particular time limit in mind (30 minutes or so is ideal) when drafting your questions so you don’t find yourself skimping on valid inquiries or accidently lose track of time. Also, offer to go to the person’s location. You cannot expect anyone to drive across town. You do the heavy lifting.

3. Show Up Prepared

In order to make the most of your short time block, you need to come prepared. You can’t waste time fumbling when you only have a half hour. You also can’t expect the other party to lead the session. You invited her; take the wheel. What should you say or ask?

Generally speaking, it’s best to ask questions that allow you to explore that person’s role, or her experience in working for a particular organization. Think about this in advance — What are you most curious about? What information will help to best prepare you for the meeting? What information will help you decide if you have interest in that person’s line of work, or the company at which she works?

Need some examples? Check out the nine example questions we listed in our last post.

4. Maintain an Air of Professionalism

While you’re not there to ask for a job (in most cases, this will be viewed as ambush-y), the informational interview should be regarded with the same professional approach as the actual interview. It’s not a joke. It’s not a silly step in the job search process. It’s nothing to scoff at. An informational interview could make or break your chances to work for a particular organization. So take it seriously, or don’t bother (This is kind of like “Go big, or go home.”) Treat your counterpart with respect and intrigue, just as you would if you were in an actual job interview. And realize this: Most people like to talk about themselves. Be interested. Be engaged.

5. Don’t Be Pushy

The person sitting across the table may be your ticket into the company you’d give your left arm to work for. And, without a doubt, you’ll probably enter this meeting hoping like heck that he’s your golden ticket to the right decision maker. But don’t expect this. It’s called an informational interview for a reason; this is your chance to gather data, get a glimpse of what it’s like to work at a particular firm, and IF YOU ARE LUCKY, develop a valuable “in” that may help you land a job.

However, this is something that has to happen organically. Being overly pushy (like foisting your resume on them, for example) is no way to sell yourself. Act confident, curious and professional; and your interviewee may be inclined to help you in any way he can.

6. Express Appreciation, Stat

While a half hour isn’t much time, it’s still half an hour that your interviewee has taken from her busy schedule to meet with you, while (theoretically) getting nothing in return.

She’s put effort — and time — into helping you, so be sure to show your gratitude abundantly and IMMEDIATELY. Everybody likes to be recognized for individual contributions, so don’t just assume they know you’re grateful — recognize it. Thank them in the beginning, at the end and send a note immediately upon leaving. Thank you matters. It matters a whole lot.

7. Keep the Chain Going

Don’t ever walk out of an informational interview without knowing which door you’ll knock on next. Before exiting, always ask the interviewee if, based on your conversation, there are 1-2 other people to whom you should introduce yourself. Note that we are not saying, “Ask this person to introduce you to a bunch of people.” Noooo. Ask them for names, and suggest that you will introduce yourself. This is way less pushy and, if your conversation has gone well, the interviewee may very well insist on making the introduction for you.

So many people are befuddled (or terrified) when it comes to informational interviews, so they stay away from them entirely. Being the one who overcomes the confusion or fear (and takes a run at informational interviews) can give a tremendous leg up. It’s a fantastic way to learn more about organizations and, better yet, endear yourself to the very people who could be your ticket in.

Get that ticket. Do the informational interviews. Do them right.

Social Media Week

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4 Strategies To Make Nonprofit Social Media Worthwhile

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4 Strategies To Make Nonprofit Social Media Worthwhile

Are you one of those nonprofits claiming your constituency doesn’t really do social media, so you don’t really need it?

I challenge you to a duel!

Why so dramatic? Because, because, because, because, BECAUSE! Because of the wonderful things it does!

BECAUSE something needs to shake you out of your Dark Ages stupor.

BECAUSE there’s no doubt at this point that social media has changed the way people do business.

BECAUSE recent studies show that, on average, Americans spend 3+ hours each day on social media.

BECAUSE in order to meet the ever-changing needs of your clients, consumers, volunteers and donors creating a solid social media presence is vital.

That’s why I’m passionate about helping you prioritize your time on social media so you can leverage it to produce real, measurable results. Results no one can scoff at.

Let’s begin with the fact that, according to Business Insider, “Americans spend more time on social media than any other major Internet activity, including email.”

If you don’t think you need it… if you think your constituents don’t use it… if you think it can’t do wonderful things for you… then I must ask you:

What makes you think you’re so special?

I don’t care if most of your constituents are age 65+… or people of color… or people devoid of any color… or highly educated intellectuals… or dingbat couch potatoes… or blue collar workers… or white collar shirkers… or people with disabilities… or antisocial recluses. Everyone is online to some extent. And those who aren’t online yet will be very soon.

It’s called “Generation C” – with the “C” standing for “connected” – and it knows no demographic boundaries.

Got it?

Okay. So now what can you do about it?

First, abandon your knee-jerk defense mechanisms.

They aren’t serving you well in this instance. Get over them. Get real. Let’s address your fears and suggest some ways to overcome them.

In a nutshell, I’ll bet you or your boss or board are thinking one or all of the following:

  1. I’m afraid of it, and just don’t really understand it.

If you’re the type of person who finds it difficult to admit there’s something you don’t know how to do, then I’ll bet you often also think what you don’t know probably isn’t that important. Oh, yeah, you may hire folks to do it. But you’re not really invested because you don’t “get it.” Hmmn… isn’t that a bit egotistical?

Well, guess what? You can channel that to your advantage with nonprofit social media. Brian Solis has been arguing for years about how digital has given rise to an “egosystem.” The most influential businesses will find success within this egosystem and its interconnected customers.

Is your ego so large that you think you can stand apart from the prevailing egosystem of connected potential constituents?

TIP: Channel Your Ego through Social Channels that Promote You as an Expert in Your Field

  • Linkedin is terrific for this. You can create an organizational profile ; then join existing groups or start your own group. Create discussions. Respond to queries. If you have a blog, link your comments back to your blog posts to drive folks to your website. This is the very best platform for sharing your nonprofit’s content. Other than blogging, Jay Baer points out that LinkedIn publishing offers several key benefits for practically all businesses—among them, audience quality and overall reach.
  • You can do the same thing on Google+, and create different groups with different interests. This is a terrific way to tailor your communications to segmented constituencies.
  • Video is great for this as well. Do you have some research to add to your field? An editorial opinion that’s relevant to one of today’s top news stories? Put something up on YouTube for all the world to see.
  1. I fear it will be time wasted because our supporters don’t really use it.

In my experience, the number one reason nonprofit leaders tell me their constituents don’t really require social media outreach is because they don’t use it themselves. So they imagine everyone is like them. Stop thinking everyone else is like you.

On average, they aren’t.

You’re living in the past. Something has fundamentally altered the rules of the game – and how folks get their information. Yes, it’s called the digital revolution – something that has altered business as usual. It’s why bookstores are disappearing… newspapers are folding… and brick and mortar retailers are seeing declines. Thought leader Brian Solis labels today’s online connectors as “Generation C” for “connected” – and this “generation” knows no age boundaries. In fact, Generation C made the Ice Bucket challenge go viral.

Do you really not want to have access to this prolific and socially active demographic?

TIP: Engage with Folks who Share the Values your Nonprofit Enacts

  • Make a list of your top 25 supporters. Folks who already share your values are likely to have friends who share them as well. Your goal is to get them to let their friends be yours. Linkedin, again, shines here. See if they’re on Linkedin. If so, connect with them. See what groups they are members of. Consider joining in their discussions. “Like” their comments. Flattery will get you very far, and this is a great way to show your donors you know them and care about more than their wallets. Treat these folks like friends, and before you know it they’ll be opening doors for you.
  • Show some volunteer and donor love by praising your supporters in front of other folks in their networks. Endorse them on Linkedin. Send a twitter shout-out singing their praises. Repin something from their Pinterest board to one of yours. Retweet their posts. Send a laudatory email with updates on their latest personal or professional accomplishments or life cycle events to others in their group (e.g., alumni association; advisory committee; auxiliary; giving club).
  • Ask your supporters what social channels they engage in. Find them and friend them. Follow them. Network with them. Ask them to do things; asks are ways to stimulate conversation and active participation with you. You can ask for comments and retweets. You can ask folks to sign a pledge or petition. You can ask folks to volunteer, play a game, enter a contest or respond to a survey.  You can ask folks to simply share their accomplishments or social updates with you. Or ask them to share inspiring quotes, reading recommendations, funny photos, memories or stories.
  • Hang out with your peeps. When you put something up on your social media page(s) why not hang out a few minutes to engage with your network?  John Haydon, Facebook, social media and nonprofit marketing guru, suggests not calling it ‘posting’ but ‘planting seeds.’ Want your relationships to grow? Nurture them.
  1. It will eat up too much of our limited resources.

 Another excuse for not embracing social media is that folks can’t imagine where they’ll find time to add it to their already overloaded work schedule. So, why bother when so few folks who matter are using it? (Hopefully we’ve debunked that myth, above).

There’s so much you can do on social media that takes much, much more time without it. How about donor research? You used to have to purchase expensive research systems, hire a researcher or spend hours in the library. No you can simply “google” people. Or looked for them on Linkedin and see their virtual resume.

Can you really not find an hour a day to get access to a large group of potential supporters?

TIP: Build a Social Media System you can Manage in Just One Hour Daily.

  • Prioritize engagement to get the biggest bang for your buck. This is where the action is. Simply creating a Facebook page and counting your fans won’t get you far. Make sure someone pays attention to your sites. Two of the most important words in social media are “Thank You.” Show that you’re grateful for your constituents’ participation. Show that you’re listening!
  • Define your target audiences. Who are the folks who can help you? This includes influencers. What do they need? What can you give them? It’s your job to speak to your prospect’s needs. Now spend time with these folks who really matter.
  • Write down your engagement strategy into a plan with assigned responsibilities and deadlines. Stick to your schedule. If you budget 60 minutes a week to create or curate content, stay disciplined. You’ll find you save time, work faster and get the job done! Simply forcing yourself to do something within stated boundaries makes you more productive.
  1. We aren’t like “businesses” that use it to “sell” things.

Social marketing is shifting away from company-to-buyer marketing, and toward peer-to-peer influence marketing. And there’s almost nothing that positively influences behavior as strongly as learning that someone you respect does it or recommends it. Robert Cialdini tested this out and advocates for peer influence in his groundbreaking 6 Principles of Influence.

Nonprofit social media is just about the best way to use peer influence that’s ever been invented! Need I say… “Ice Bucket?”

When it comes to persuading folks to donate to you, do you really want to ignore one of the key principles of persuasion?

TIP: Turn Social Media into a Prospect Generation Machine that Converts Visitors into Philanthropists

  • Approach your work from an organization-wide perspective that centers on your customer. Where do they get their news and information? Who might they listen to? Do you have board members, donors, staff or other influencers who might persuade them to act?  As Daniel Pink writes in “To Sell is Human,” we’re all in sales now. It’s true for nonprofits as well. We’re all in the persuasion business.
  • Use available social analytics tools to determine who most appreciates your content. Once you know who likes your content, you can spend more time with them and not waste your time trying to persuade folks who’ll never convert to donors.

Try out these four strategies and see if your nonprofit social media use becomes more focused and effective. Or let us know if you’ve got a better strategy!

Maximize Social Business

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