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Terry Gitersos – Foot in door: Terry Gitersos travels “informational interview” route

One challenge I have encountered in my application process is determining precisely what positions to shoot for.

Suffering from post-dissertation burnout and desiring a clean break from my academic career, I was adamant when I kicked off my job search that I did not want to work in a field related to my area of academic expertise (not that there are many of these positions, but I digress).  And so I have been volume sending applications for positions for which I possess virtually no experience.

After a few months of dispatching applications into the ether to no avail, I started concentrating my efforts on a few lines of work that appealed to me by scheduling what employment counsellors call “informational interviews.”  This consisted of contacting people employed by organizations where I could see myself working, bribing them into meeting me with the prospect of a free coffee, learning more about what they do, and flinging myself at them (gracefully, I hope).

Perhaps this sounds terribly unpleasant and desperate, or at least it did to me when I first contemplated the practice, but it honestly isn’t so bad.  Many people are very happy to extend help – or at least happy to have an excuse to duck out of the office for a coffee – and besides, it’s not really begging for employment as much as marketing, signalling availability, and making connections.  In a tight market where something like 85 per cent of available jobs are never made public, job seekers have to work their tails off to put themselves on the radar of people with hiring authority.  Idly sending out resumes and cover letters isn’t enough, especially for those like me who are, in essence, seeking career changes.

Case in point: an informational interview recently netted me an interview, and for a position that I did not see advertised elsewhere, no less.  In case you’re keeping score at home: job interviews obtained through upwards of two hundred resumes and cover letters: 1; job interviews obtained through a dozen informational interviews: 1.

Honestly, the position in question was too good to be true: not only did I find out about the position through my connection, but the job was in a field that I find stimulating, the core skillset required was a perfect match with my transferrable PhD skills, and the salary range advertised in the posting was 60-100 per cent more than I expected to take home in my first post-academic job.  It really was the best-case scenario.

The interview went fine.  The interviewers were very pleasant, went out of their way to make me feel comfortable, and didn’t ask impossible or unnerving questions just to watch me squirm.  I am more or less pleased with how I answered their questions.  There was a short post-interview skills test, and while I certainly didn’t ace it, I doubt I flunked it either.  But when I was in the process of saving this skills test on one of the company’s computers as requested, I caught a glimpse of the name of the person who had been interviewed the day before; he had written the same test, and had clearly been instructed to save it in the same location.  Like a good Generation Y-er, I googled him as soon as I returned home.  Alas, not only could he match my graduate degrees, but his degrees and research were much more germane to the position than mine.  And there were other qualifications that he had over me to boot.  Unless he lacked basic social and interviewing skills, he seemed sure to get the nod over me.

In the end, neither of us got the job: a third candidate was hired, one with credentials, skills, and experience that blew ours out of the water.  As this was the outcome I expected, I’m not in the least bit bitter.  Sending away job applications with no response or feedback is extraordinarily frustrating, so being interviewed, even if nothing comes of it, is cause for celebration.  What’s more, I have irrefutable evidence that informational interviews work, because there’s no way a HR department would have chosen to interview me for that job – it really was too good to be true – had I not mentioned my contact in the first sentence of my cover letter.   But at the same time, the interview was a valuable reminder that connections only go so far and that, in a city full of highly educated job seekers, I will struggle to compete for positions in fields other than my own.  Though I still don’t really want to work in my field of study, it might be my best shot at a job.  Or even my only shot at a job.  At the very least, it’s something I’ll have to look into going forward.

Our opinion is that the opinions expressed by our guest bloggers are their opinion, and not necessarily those of HEQCO.

Now that you’ve been introduced to blogger Terry Gitersos, we invite you to stay tuned for his periodic HEQCO blogs, which will describe his efforts to crack the labour market. His blog will continue until he finds that post-doctoral job, or until he tires of writing about it…

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