The power of informational interviews

Cups Under Espresso Machine PortafilterIf you’re looking for work, one of the best ways to find a job is through informational interviews. Many jobs are not posted; instead, companies rely on their network to get the word out about open positions.

When I worked in the corporate world the majority of my jobs came through inside sources who either knew someone who worked at the company or worked there themselves. When you conduct informational interviews you have a better chance of learning about these hidden open positions.

An informational interview is where you meet with people you know or to whom you’ve been referred. The focus on the meeting is to grow your connections and learn about different fields and companies. It is not to ask for a job.

To get started, look at you current connections, including family, friends and past coworkers. If one of your connections works for a company you’re interested in working for, or is in a field that attracts you, ask this person if you could meet for 30 minutes over coffee. When you ask for the meeting do not say you’re looking for a job. It will make him feel uncomfortable if he doesn’t know of any job openings. Instead state you’re exploring career options and would like to learn more about what he does and the company he works for.

Suggest a few dates and times that work for you and a coffee shop that’s convenient to your connection. The day before or morning of the meeting be sure to confirm the meeting time and place. Show up about ten minutes early so that you can secure a place to sit and can pay for your interviewee’s beverage when she arrives.

Start by thanking your interviewee for meeting with you and state that you will only take 30 minutes of her time. Then, mention what field you are or were in, that you are exploring options and that you are interested in learning more about her company and what she does. The majority of the meeting should be you asking her questions, such as, what an average week is like for her, how she got to where she is, what she likes about her company, etc. Keep the interview focused on the other person, not on you. Show true interest and curiosity in the person and their career. And, stay positive. Never badmouth previous employers, coworkers or professors.

Avoid asking the interviewee to review your resume. If he is interested in knowing more about your background and work history he will ask about it. About twenty minutes into the meeting ask your contact if he can think of anyone else in the same field (assuming that’s a field you want to pursue) or who has a similar job that he would be willing to refer you to. Hopefully he will have some names to share with you. Always clarify with him if it’s OK to say that he referred you to this person.

Keep track of the time and wrap the meeting up as you near thirty minutes. This shows you are true to your word and that you respect the person’s time. Thank her for the meeting and referrals and ask if you may stay in touch. Be sure you get her business card so you can follow-up. Ask if you may give her your business card before doing so.

After the meeting, send a thank you note, preferably a handwritten one which is much more impressive and more likely to be held onto. Be sure to contact the referrals he gave you to set-up more informational interviews. Then, stay in touch with your original contact and let him know how things are going for you.

The people who have most impressed me are those that come prepared to the meeting with a list of questions that are pertinent to me and the work I do. They stay in touch and keep me informed of their progress. I’m always happy to help those folks. In fact, one of those people became a good friend, who later helped me when I was in a career transition.

I wish you much luck in your job hunting.


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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>

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