When you are in the job market, every, and I mean EVERY, meeting is an interview.

Every day we meet people. Some meetings are fleeting and are for simple, daily activities and tasks. We meet people at the grocery store, at the local coffee shop, at the gym. Other meetings create real connections. You will also meet people at your kid’s school, during volunteer activities, at charitable events, or through professional organizations. If your parents were like mine, you may have been taught to treat everyone with respect and to be kind. In other words, practicing The Golden Rule .

When you are in the job market you need to take the Golden Rule one step further. You need to treat every meeting as an interview. One definition of an interview is a “formal meeting in which one or more persons question, consult, or evaluate another person”. What I am suggesting is that the meeting need not be formal, however, the concept of questioning, consulting, and evaluating happens all the time whether the title of the meeting on your calendar is “interview” or you are sharing a cup of coffee at a volunteer event. I am a huge believer of networking to help you in your career search and transitions. Networking is a great way to learn and develop a viable plan for the transition. Keep in mind, however, there is a gray line between a “networking meeting” and an “interview”.

Consider the following scenario. A friend is currently looking to shift his career direction and has started looking to join a company with a strong sustainability mission. Your friend has decided to volunteer with a local non-profit organization that is helping companies develop various sustainability programs and decided to attend a monthly meeting of the non-profit group. While in line for a cup of coffee the woman behind your friend makes small talk. She asks your friend why he is attending the meeting. He says he has an interest in sustainability and then goes to find a seat.

Hopefully as you read this you cringed. You know the error of your friend’s ways. What should he have done differently if he was thinking of this interaction as an interview? Follow these simple steps to turn small talk into a real connection.

  1. Introduce yourself at the start of your answer and provide a simple but direct statement of your current situation, your focus areas, and what you believe. “Hi, I’m Tom Golden. I’ve been passionate about the area of sustainability and believe this organization has the most comprehensive methodology to help companies design viable solutions. I’m also in the process of transitioning from my current VP of Finance role into something that will allow me to use my skills in the sustainability area. What is your name and what brings you to this event?”
  2. Asks questions of the other person to show interest and to allow both of you to assess commonalities and connections. “Your are the COO for Sustainability Best Practice Consulting Inc.? I recently read about the type of work you did for Big Oil Co. and the impact your group had.”
  3. Showcase your background to establish your credibility. “In my role as the VP of Finance I have been able to help my company establish a viable sustainability program while establishing a strong ROI.”
  4. Ask for time to meet and discuss further your common interests. “Would you be open to meeting and discussing how you moved into your role and how you view the sustainability issues facing businesses today?”

In addition to being able to converse about your background, your passions, your desires, don’t forget the non-verbal questioning and evaluating that happens in every meeting. Be very conscious of your body language, eye contact, and use of purposeful pauses. It goes without saying that you are dressed professionally. If, in the above scenario, your friend were wearing shorts and a ball cap the COO would make a note. While it is easy to say “it shouldn’t be about how I am dressed”, why even make it something that has to be considered?

During a job search or career transition most of the attention is on crafting the best resume, responding to job postings, and setting up formal interviews. Studies have been done that say most jobs are found via networking. Networking, whether formally initiated or happens informally, looks a lot like an interview and should be treated as such. Just remember, if it feels like an interview, and even if it doesn’t, it probably is in some way, shape or form.