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Informational interviews are an amazing and necessary tool to use during your job search. If you’re not doing them you are missing a great opportunity to not only network, but to further yourself and your knowledge about the industry you’re looking to transition into.

Where do I even start?

Networking is the key to obtaining an informational interview. Getting the interview can be challenging if you are not a well-connected person. Start by asking your close friends and family if they know anyone who would be willing to meet up with you to discuss their career path and your interests in the field. Go to job fairs or networking events and ask for business cards. Reach out to people on LinkedIn who share a connection or alma mater with you. And if you do land an informational interview, don’t forget to ask that person to connect you with more professionals who can offer their advice and guidance.

Ideally, the interview would take place in person, but if that’s unlikely, set up a 30 minute phone call. The important thing to remember is that the other person is doing you a favor, so be flexible and give them options. And if you’re lucky enough to meet for lunch, buy their meal.

Ok, so I have the interview set up. Now what?

Research and prepare! Do not go in thinking you are just going to wing this. Prepare for your informational interview just as you would a real job interview. Research the company, research the professionals you are meeting with, and prepare a list of well thought-out questions about everything relevant. Most likely the conversation will flow naturally, but especially for a phone interview where time is limited and you lack that face to face connection, you want to make sure that the most important questions are answered and you present yourself like the professional you are.

Can you give me some examples of questions I might ask?

I have a list of questions I like to ask, but I usually find myself revising them based on my research and the professional’s area of expertise, which you should, too. But here are a few I almost always find myself asking after introducing myself:

  • As _______ at _______, what are your main duties and responsibilities?
  • What do you like most about working at/in __________?
  • What is the biggest challenge you face as a professional in ___________?
  • Out of all your experience, what has contributed the most to your success?
  • Could you recommend any resources to help me develop myself and my skills for a career in _______?

Remember to NEVER, EVER ask for a job. This is not a job interview and the professional has no obligations to talk about one. If they offer to take a look at your resume, great! If not, it’s ok to ask them to give advice for resume revision or if they would mind keeping it on file in case something comes up in the future. Just don’t be pushy. This is a chance for you to show them your potential as a future professional in their industry. Who knows? If you make a good impression, the possibilities are endless. At the very least you will have a connection at that company, which means a lot these days.

I already have a job. Should I still be doing informational interviews?

Yes! Even if you are gainfully and happily employed, I would 100% encourage conducting informational interviews within your company. Not only does learning more about your company and the people you work with make you a better, more well-rounded professional, but in the case you wish to transition to another department in the future, you will already have the connections in place.

And don’t forget to follow up and thank them!

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Remember my post “Starting the Job Search is Half the Battle” about how just getting over that initial hill was the hard part? Well, I forgot to mention the first hill might just be one of many.

Unless you’re very lucky, the hills in our job search are inevitable. We run into them for various reasons: illness, vacations, personal issues, lack of motivation, etc. In my case, a weeklong trip to Thailand followed by a relocation to the States from South Korea slowed me down quite a bit more than I had anticipated. I found myself having to start the battle once again.

The good news is, you’re not really starting from square one. You’ve got all your basics down from the first round, e.g. your resume, cover letter ideas, job searching strategies, etc., so starting up will come more naturally this time around. But if you’re like me, you’ll want to decrease the chances of ending up at the bottom of a hill once again. That’s when I read an article written by Tim Tyrell-Smith titled “Structure: Is It Missing In Your Job Search?” which I think just might be the solution to this very common problem.

Most people need structure in their life. It gives you a sense of control and it motivates you to continue on with whatever you’re doing. When you are held accountable to adhere to a structure, it is even more effective, such as at work or school.

While many people comment that job searching is a full-time job in itself, it lacks the structure and accountability of most jobs. As the article points out, if you are coming from your typical 8-5 company position to a full-time job search, you may find yourself lacking the motivation and organization necessary to be as successful as you hoped.

The article suggests a few ways to give your job search some structure and, in turn, increase productivity. Personally, I like the tips to set weekly goals and to structure your days in advance. I’ve also heard many times that it is helpful to be as specific as possible in your job search objective, bug I think there should be a little leeway with this. Being specific will help you when searching for positions and while networking and researching, but I think it’s also helpful to remain open to all possibilities.

I’m going to leave you with a few job search goals of my own.

1. Always get an early start. If you want the job, you need to train your body like you already have it. Sleeping in only makes you feel sluggish and might be another excuse to “start fresh tomorrow.”

2. Set a plan for what you want to do each day. For example, the first half of the day might be dedicated to searching and applying, while the second half might be for research or networking. Breaking up your schedule will make your day less monotonous and hold your focus for longer.

3. Find ways to improve your skills. I plan to continue talking to HR professionals, reading HR books, attending classes and meetings, researching and writing, basically anything that will allow me to utilize this free time in a way that will benefit my career.

I’ll let you know how it all goes. In the meantime, what are your job search goals and how do you make sure you stay motivated?

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A few days ago I stumbled upon a link to a great video posted by SHRM titled “How to get HIRED — tips for HR pros looking for jobs.” While it is short (just 1:57), the video is very inspiring and helpful for those looking to advance their HR career. I have found that getting advice and insight from successful HR professionals, whether it be in person or through the media, can make a huge difference in your job search if you use and apply it correctly. While this video contains the contributions of several different HR Professionals, I was able to pick out a few common themes.

The first speaker on the video is Karen Rieck, a VP of HR. Ms. Rieck talks about the importance of continuing your education and developing yourself through certifications (PHR, SPHR, GPHR) and advanced schooling. I couldn’t agree more on the topic. By not furthering your education you will be falling behind those who are. Never let your skills become stagnant, especially those related to your field of interest. Human Resources is such a diverse and ever-changing career field; you must stay on top of your game. Ms. Rieck also mentions she looks for someone with an interest in the whole business and who “takes on challenges outside of HR.” Your knowledge and your experiences will not only give you the chance to develop your skills, but show your character and what you may have to offer the organization. I touched on this in my last post about transferable skills from previous experiences.

Brian Cox, an HR Operations Director, is the second contributor to the video. Like Ms. Rieck, he also acknowledges that he looks for a candidate with interest in continuously advancing their education. Another quality Mr. Cox recognizes as important for HR professionals is global experience, e.g. working for an international company or working abroad. So once again, we realize how important it is for us to keep learning and take on unique challenges. I believe experience is a part of learning, too. To create a diverse workplace, an organization needs diverse employees. If you have a distinguishing experience, such as working on an international scale, you will be more qualified to add to that diversity, as well as adapt to a new environment.

Although Kellie Dunn-Doggeman, HR Manager, had the shortest contribution to the video, her message was quite clear. In the modern business, globalization is very real and happening for more companies every day. Since interaction with foreign countries, people, and businesses is rapidly increasing, an organization will not only look for HR professionals with international experience, but multi-lingual skills as well. Despite the fact that English is the most prevalent language used in business, we cannot (and should not) always expect that other countries to conform to us. By showing respect and knowledge in other cultures, we have a greater chance for success.

The last speaker on the video is Lisa Kluczinsky, HR Manager. I liked her contribution because she mentioned what we all have heard and acknowledge as important, but what very few people actually do: research the job you are applying for and show your passion for the position. There are many ways of educating yourself, and researching companies is one of those ways. Hiring managers want to see not only your interest in HR, but your interest in the organization as well. Be prepared to answer questions, such as why you want to work for that particular company, and even why you want to work in HR. That extra step could be what pushes you ahead of the rest.

Overall, I believe there’s a lot we can take away from this video, but as I mentioned before, there are some common themes we need to take note of. A successful HR Professional continues developing themselves through education, certifications, global experience, and research. They take on challenges and are passionate about what they do. After watching this video, I feel a renewed confidence in my future as a Human Resources Professional and excitement for the experiences and opportunities a career in HR has to offer.

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In this post, I talked about the beginning of my job search and some of the mistakes I realized I was making, particularly sending most of my resumes into a big black hole never to be seen or heard of again. Since I didn’t feel like delaying my HR career any longer, I decided to change my strategy. I went back to the basics.

In order to find and obtain your dream job, you have to learn as much as possible about it. I began by simply googling “What is Human Resources?” and went from there. It may seem simple, but sometimes even if you think you know the answer to a question, you might not. Besides, a little review never hurt anyone.

Other possible searches can be more specific. Search about different departments, concentrations, job titles, salaries, companies, etc. This will tell you what you should expect when applying or interviewing for a job, give you a clearer idea of what position is right for you, and it will prepare you when dealing with tough questions during an interview. If your search goes anything like mine, you’ll end up overwhelmed with information and sites needing to be bookmarked.  And it doesn’t stop there.

I recommend searching for ways to get involved with the professional community as much as you can. My researching and reviewing stage began leading me towards searching about HR volunteering opportunities, local HR businesses, and HR social communities and meetings, such as SHRM. Don’t be afraid to email people with your questions. Inquire about volunteering at their company, local meetings they attend, etc. I have found many professionals to be extremely open and helpful. Just remember not to be pushy about it and try to make it as mutually favorable as possible. You’re asking a favor of them; they don’t have to help you.

In addition, start to get super involved on social networking sites, such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Connect with professionals in your field of interest and ask them if it would be okay to email them with a couple of your questions. Follow companies you want to work for, read and comment on blogs, and stay on top of the latest and greatest news in the industry. This is a full-time job in itself, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you fall behind. It gets easier over time and you’ll develop your own strategies for dealing with the constant flow in information.

For me, the most helpful job search strategy has been networking through close family and friends. The people who know you on a more personal level are more likely to advocate for you and set you up with some great opportunities. If you are lucky enough to be closely connected to a professional in your field of interest, try to set up a phone call, meeting, or informational interview. Again, these people are busy and making time for you, so make sure you let them know how much you appreciate their help.

After revising my job search strategies, I am spending a large portion of my time researching and getting connected to the HR community. As a result, I don’t always have time to apply to many positions. But I don’t feel too bad about that. When I do search for positions now, I am pickier about what kind of job I am looking for and my search has become a lot more focused. If I apply for a job now, I know it’s something I want and am qualified to do — not just another shot in the dark.

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One of the first Korean sentences I learned was the proverb “시작이 반이다.” Roughly translated it means “The beginning is half.” The idea is that if you start something well, you’ve probably already gained the momentum to get you halfway through. Finally beginning the job search can be daunting, but I promise that if you give it your all from the beginning, you’ll be wondering why you waited at all.

It’s never too early to begin your job search. Whether you’re thinking about transitioning from your current career, still a student at university, and especially if you’re unemployed, it will never hurt to begin revising* your résumé and researching your field of interest. I know that if I drag my feet doing something, I might wait until the last-minute and stress myself out. I don’t know about you, but I hate being stressed out, so I began pushing myself to bite the bullet and basically just get over that initial hump. I’m not claiming that it will be smooth sailing from there on out, but once I started I was so motivated to continue and reach my goal that I almost felt like I couldn’t stop at times!

I began by giving my résumé a complete makeover. This was necessary because I hadn’t been on the job hunt for over two years, and to top that off, my résumé was tailored for an Asian country. (Not to mention some information required on my résumé for my job in Asia would be illegal for an American company to inquire about.)

Needless to say, it wasn’t an easy task, and even though I was pretty proud of my first draft, I have since found ways to improve upon it immensely. I started out by making a list of my experiences and writing down what I thought were note-worthy responsibilities and achievements. It helps to look online to find some examples, but like I mentioned, try not to get too attached to that résumé because chances are it’s going to change. One important thing to remember about your résumé is to make sure you have a summary section at the top, where you list your main accomplishments and specific skills.

I made a few mistakes at first for sure. One of my mistakes was throwing around too many basic phrases and keywords, without backing them up. Even though in my mind I was thinking, “Strong work ethic? Organized? Attention to detail? Yeah! That sounds exactly like me!” how would anyone just looking at your résumé really know that? Anyone can put a bunch of words on a paper and claim that they are true. Save your time and space and skip those basic phrases unless you have specific examples or accomplishments to back them up. Find the strengths in your experience and character and be sure to highlight those.

Another major mistake I made was once I “finished” my résumé and cover letter, (Yes, one cover letter. Yikes. That should tell you how many mistakes I actually was making!) I began to search and search for jobs. Once I found anything related to HR that I might be interested in, I applied. In my mind I was thinking, “Wow, I’m so productive; I just applied to 10 jobs today!” But the ratio of the number of jobs I was applying for to how many call backs I was getting was terrible. Basically, I was wasting my time and obviously doing something wrong.

That was the point when I decided to start putting a LOT more focus on educating myself, researching HR, networking with HR professionals, and asking a billion questions. I’m still in this phase, and honestly I feel like these are all excellent things to be doing, even after I get a job in HR.

My point is: don’t wait around for information and jobs to come flying into your lap. Unless you’re super lucky, it’s not going to happen. Your résumé is a good place to start. Just make sure you don’t stop there.

*I say “revising” and not “updating” your résumé because in addition to just adding your most current experiences and achievements, you should also be constantly trying to think of way to better showcase your skills and abilities, as well as tailoring your résumé to fit each position you are applying to.

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