I receive requests from colleagues on a regular basis to offer some assistance in their search for a new job. They may feel that they have accomplished all they can in their present position, or they may come to realize that there are limited opportunities for advancement or to take on new responsibilities at their current job. Sometimes they may want to work with a different client population or to focus on a different issue in Israeli society or in the Jewish community where they live.
They often ask me, “How do I find out if there are opportunities working with a specific client population or focused on a particular social issue?” Such opportunities are usually not listed in the want ads in the Anglo-Jewish press or on websites that focus on either the nonprofit sector or Jewish communal organizations.
For that reason, I have developed a professional approach – information interviewing – that has helped my colleagues in their search for a new professional experience.
When professionals decide to find a new position, they will generally reach out to colleagues, friends, and those who are in allied professional positions and ask if they know of any openings. If there is an organization that they can see themselves working with, they will often call and ask to speak with someone in the personnel department and inquire about openings. After receiving negative responses from these conversations and not seeing anything in the newspaper or on an appropriate website, they may get frustrated and feel like they have exhausted their options.
At this point they can take advantage of the information interview. It is based on the premise that people like to talk about what they do and they like it when others want to know about their field of practice, their agency, and their professional practice in their nonprofit agency. Generally, people like to be in a position to teach someone about how they work and to discuss their work. Based on this assumption, most professionals will respond positively to a request to meet with someone to discuss their organization and their particular position.
Once the person looking for a position has decided on the field of practice, the client population, and/or the organization where he or she would like to work, that job seeker should contact someone in that organization and request a meeting. Of course the person contacted will ask the reason for the meeting. The answer should be clear and to the point: “I am interested in knowing more about what your organization does,” or “I have heard wonderful things about the work you do and I would like to hear more about it,” or “I am interested in the kind of work you do and I would like to hear about your experience.” All of these responses are door openers. They are all a way of beginning a conversation.
The focus of the conversation is on the services of the agency, the professional’s role, or both. During the course of the meeting the person looking for a position not only has an opportunity to learn a great deal but is also placed in the position of sharing his or her knowledge and experience. The shared process also provides an opportunity for the interviewee to get to know the job seeker and to learn about that person’s interests, way of thinking through and answering the questions asked, and his or her professional use of self in the meeting.
Based on the meeting, the professional from the organization should be able to develop an impression of the job seeker. If the meeting has gone well and a nice connection is made between the two people, the person seeking a position has several options: make known his or her interest in working for the organization and ask if there are any openings; if there are no openings, ask how to find out when there is an open position; and ask if there are other organizations and professionals whom he or she should contact. If the interview has been positive then the job seeker can ask not only for specific names to contact but also whether the interviewee would make an introduction via e-mail or a phone call. In this way the informational interview may lead to other meetings and provide an excellent opportunity for expanded networking.
This is the reason I refer to this process as a door opener. It enables the professional who is looking for a position to build on informational meetings and conversations. It requires a great deal of openness, enthusiasm, and willingness to explore possibilities in this creative way.
Over the years I have received feedback from people that they have found this process to be not only helpful but also very productive, enabling them to find stimulating and challenging positions. So, if you are thinking of looking for a position, be open-minded and begin to meet new and different people whom you may not have had the opportunity to meet in the past. You never know where these conversations will lead you. You may wind up in a very exciting professional position!
Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Nonprofit Management and Leadership Program. Stephen was Director of the Israel office of the Council of Jewish Federations (CJF), 1986-94, and Director of the Israel office of UJA Federation of New York, 1994-2008.