Informational Interviewing to Penetrate the Hidden Job Market

Frustrated with your job search and lack of invitations to interview? Wondering how you could make yourself a more attractive candidate? Thinking about a career transition or pondering whether you are in the right field? Then the informational interview might just be your solution!

Informational Interviewing versus Job Interviewing

As you know, of course, a job interview is when a potential employer invites you to a meeting to discuss a particular position with the objective of evaluating you to fill that position. While one of your objectives is to evaluate the position, your primary objective is to sell yourself in order to procure a job offer. On the other hand, the primary objective of the informational interview is to obtain information only about a particular industry, company, practice area, jurisdiction, etc., in the absence of a specific job opening. The cardinal rule of the informational interview is that you make it clear you are NOT asking for a job.

So What’s the Point?

If it isn’t going to lead to a job offer, you say, why should I bother? Well, I didn’t say it wasn’t going to lead to a job offer now did I? Only that you are not interviewing for or asking for a job at that time. Informational interviewing certainly can lead to a job offer; its just not as direct as job interviewing (more on this point below). In fact, I think of it more as a networking tool. You are simply asking for a small amount of someone’s time (usually only 15 minutes) to give you some brief mentoring. Ok, but what’s in it for the interviewee; why would someone grant me an “informational interview?” Because most people naturally like to help and mentor others—its true. It makes them feel good about themselves, and they will likely be flattered that you regard them as a good source of information. No, you will not always get the interview; however, nothing ventured, nothing gained. If your request is met with a rejection, move on to the next contact.

Benefits of the Informational Interview

1) Since you are not asking for a job, you are not competing with a bunch of other applicants for the interviewee’s time and attention.

2) The contact is more likely to grant you an informational interview because you are only asking for 15 minutes of their time and they do not need to prepare for the interview.

3) It is more relaxing for you both—you are in control and do not have a potential job offer at stake; the interviewee has no pressure to evaluate you, ask you tough questions, or offer you a position.

4) If the contact likes you and there does happen to be a position open at the time or in the future, you already have a foot in the door.

5) The contact hopefully will refer you to others with whom you can network and/or interview, multiplying your chances of finding those coveted hidden jobs.

6) You obtain some valuable information regarding your credentials, marketability and areas of interest if you ask the right questions.

Introducing Yourself—Requesting the Interview

If you do not have a networking or other connection with the person you would like to interview, prepare a brief email or letter introducing yourself. For example, an attorney who is changing practice areas might say something like this:

“Dear ______, my name is Jane and I am a litigation attorney with 5 years’ experience working  in a large law firm. I am contemplating a possible career change to an in-house position where I would manage litigation. I am contacting you because you had previously made a similar career move and I’d be very interested in your input. I know you are very busy and your time is valuable, but I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind meeting with me very briefly—no more than 15 minutes—to answer a few questions to provide me with some guidance in the next steps for my career. I am not actively looking for a job, simply exploring my options.”

Preparing for the Informational Interview

Think about the questions you really want to ask that will help you evaluate your own career choices and job search strategies. For example, what do you want to know about “X” industry? About working in the state of “X”? Ask them how they got where they are today; what do they like about what they do/where they work? Everyone’s “script” will vary depending on their unique position and the person with whom they are interviewing.

Do talk about your own relevant experience and aspirations. Ask “do you think I have the proper qualifications for “X”, or “what would you suggest I do in order to make myself more marketable in this area?” Of course you give them a copy of your resume (or better yet, a professional biography, which is more subtle) so that they can understand your background (but not consider you for an immediate position).

Your last question should always be: “Can you think of anyone else who it would be helpful for me to talk to?” Get names and contact information and of course use your last interviewee to obtain the next interview: “Hi, I’m Jane and John Doe recommended that I talk with you…”

Following Up

Always follow up with a brief thank you note for the person’s time, and ask them to please contact you if they think of anyone else who might be helpful for you to contact. Then, of course, connect with them on LinkedIn, stay in touch and let them know how you are doing!

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