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Why the Informational Interview Should Be Your Favorite Job-Hunting Tactic

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coffee meeting

You’re on the job search. You’ve done it, I’ve done it: your battle plan consists of applying to every job there ever was, is or will be in any field you have a remote interest in.

A successful day is it making it through applying to 70 jobs you found online, from construction work to being an extra in a movie to participating in lab experiments meant to measure your brain wave activity. Whatever gives you a job.

This tactic works, but only about five percent of the time. Unfortunately, you’ve heard enough stories of people getting hired this way to make you believe it can happen to you, too. And it can — but that’s the worst part, because it becomes your primary job hunting tactic.

The alternative, “networking,” is an evil, awkward, uncomfortable tactic that involves handing your business cards to every working professional you know, rudely begging for a job while wearing your only good shirt. But you can’t do that. You don’t have any business cards, your one good shirt is wrinkled and you don’t know the first thing about approaching a professional to ask for a job.

It’s time for a change

Stop applying for every job you can find online. It’s time to start networking and give yourself a fighting chance at a full-time job you won’t regret applying to after your third day.

Let’s talk about informational interviews. An informational interview is a meeting between two people, one who’s a professional working in a certain field or industry and one who’s looking to learn more about that industry and get their foot in the door.

Note: this is not a job interview. It’s better in a lot of ways. (Click here to Tweet this thought.)

A successful informational interview will provide you with insider insight about the industry you’re passionate about. Meeting up with a professional screenwriter will give you the opportunity to discover information you can’t find anywhere else if you want to be a screenwriter.

Google can only go so far

To learn as much as you can from an informational interview, here are five questions to come prepared with:

  1. What is your day-to-day like? What does your average workday consist of?
  2. What advice would you give someone looking to get their foot in the door of the ________ industry? (Fill in the blank.)
  3. What are common entry-level jobs in the ______ industry?
  4. What are the next steps you’d recommend for someone like me?
  5. Do you know of any jobs available in the industry at the moment?

That last one is for the ballsy individuals (hint: they’re probably going to get a job faster than others).

More importantly, an informational interview gives you a professional connection in an industry you’re passionate about. If the interview goes well, make that person a professional connection who likes you.

This will mean they’re a lot more likely to refer you to other working professionals in their industry, and they might even suggest your name when they hear about the multitude of jobs in their industry that never get posted online. Bingo.

How to set up an informational interview

“That’s all fine and dandy,” you may say, “but how in the world am I supposed to set one up? I don’t know anybody! If I did, I’d probably have a job right now or something.”

You’re right, you would. But that’s OK.

Here’s what you do. Go on LinkedIn to your college’s alumni database. (You don’t need a LinkedIn account, but you should get one if you want a full-time job.) Find someone who works in an industry you want to be a part of, and email them something like this:

Hello Mr. Super Professional,

My name is Anthony. I found you through SDSU’s alumni database on LinkedIn. I saw that you’ve worked at ____, ____ and ____. Since I graduated in 2012, I’ve become very passionate about the _____ industry.

I’d love to get your expert opinion on some questions I have about the industry. Could I please take you out to coffee sometime for about 30 minutes and ask you some questions about the _____ industry?

They’re probably going to say yes. Know why? Because people love talking about themselves, and everyone wants to help college graduates because they’re the cute, fluffy puppies of society. We can’t help it.

Do this a lot. I’m your average college graduate, and I’ve done about six informational interviews in the past few months. I have another one on Tuesday. They’re awesome. So far, I’ve received:

  • A job application for an incredible position not advertised anywhere.
  • A full-time mentor who wants to meet up every few weeks to help me out.
  • A ton of information about content writing and editing, an industry I’m passionate about.
  • Countless referrals to other professionals in the writing/editing industry .

The list goes on.

Sure, I apply to the jobs LinkedIn sends me and even to a Monster or Craigslist job or two, but informational interviews are taking me places.

You can jump on board, too. Stop applying for every job you’ve ever heard about and start getting ahead in your career. Informational interviews are the smart man’s job hunting tactic.

You’re smart, right?

Anthony Moore discusses post-college awesomeness on his website, stuffgradslike.com, and on his Twitter. He’s not much different than you: roguishly attractive, dashingly sophisticated and a lover of fine eateries like Wendy’s and Domino’s.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

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  • http://www.jasonraisleger.com/ Jason Raisleger

    Great post Anthony and I would have to agree 100% with everything
    you said. I did this during my job search this summer and I found them to be
    invaluable. Two of the people I met with told me that they would have jobs
    opening up in the fall and that they were glad I reached out to them and would
    keep me in mind for the openings when they became available. One of them even
    told me about a certification that they *give bonus points* to applicants that
    have it. Besides the great reasons you mentioned in your article, I found going
    to the informational interviews gave me hope that there were opportunities out
    there, compared to sitting at home and hoping new jobs would appear on a job
    board. I hope many job seekers were able to read your post and follow your
    advice.

    • Anthony Moore

      Thanks a lot, Jason. That’s very inspiring! A lot of job-seekers can get burned out after so many informational interviews – thanks for sharing that they can still provide a lot of meaning, encouragement, and benefits. Got any more advice for job-seekers who haven’t seen a lot of fruit from these interviews?

      • http://www.jasonraisleger.com/ Jason Raisleger

        I think part of it is managing expectations. Hopefully
        people are going into these interviews interested in learning instead of
        approaching them hoping to get an immediate job offer. When I went into
        interviews, I was honestly interested in learning more about what marketing/technology
        companies (my target) were interested in when looking to add staff. This information
        helped me to highlight these skills on my resume as well as know which skills I
        had to learn to be more ‘employable’. To
        echo your point in the article, people are actually very eager to help. I had
        only a couple of people that didn’t respond to my request for a meeting. Just be honest that you want to learn more
        about their company and industry. The more people you talk to, the more
        information you can get which can help your career going forward when you
        finally do land a job.

        • Anthony Moore

          Excellent advice. I really like the idea of going not “expecting” a job offer, but instead just asking for information and learning how to be a more competitive candidate.

  • jrandom421

    Most heard from requests for informational interviews:
    “I don’t have time for one. Apply for one of the jobs available on our website You can ask all your questions during the interview.”

    • Anthony Moore

      That’s a great point, one that I’ve come across a lot. For me, I’ve found that the times when they say “yes” are the times when there’s already a connection – either you know someone who knows them, or even just the fact that they went to your college back in the day.

      For the others who say no, that’s always discouraging – move on and find someone worth talking to who wants to talk to you. A lot of professionals want to meet young go-getters like yourself.

      I’m curious – what industries are looking into? Perhaps some industries are just a lot harder to get into.

  • Tracie Lowe

    Excellent post! Two of my professional positions have been a result of informational interviews, and I push them to college students all the time. While most aren’t ready to ask the ‘do you know of any positions available’ question — and for some it wouldn’t be appropriate– I encourage them to always ask for feedback on their resume. One point you didn’t explicity mention: Always ask, “Who else would you suggest I speak with to learn more?”

    • Anthony Moore

      Thanks for the feedback, Tracie! You know what’s funny, I make sure I always ask if they know of any positions available – for me, I just think it couldn’t hurt (although obviously, sometimes it is inappropriate).

      I think that’s a fantastic piece of advice, though – I’d say finding a connection to someone useful is the sign of an excellent information interview. I’ll be sure to include that in my next guest post!

      Tracie, what are some of the biggest problems college students/grads face when trying to initiate an informational interview? And how would you recommend they overcome these difficulties?

  • Mary Beth Barrett-Newman

    Anthony – Your post is spot on! As a career coach working with a variety of individuals from recent college grads, to Stay-at-home-Moms returning to the workforce, to mid-careers looking to move into another field/industry, getting out there & networking is not only more productive, but a lot more fun than sitting behind a computer applying to the black hole of open jobs on-line!
    One question I would include in your list is “Tell me about your career path? How did you get started in this industry?”

    • Anthony Moore

      Excellent idea, Mary! I love that attitude, and I think that’s a very smart question to ask. I’ve actually been looking into becoming a career coach myself (no joke!) and I’ve had about…10 informational interviews this year alone with career coaches. Looks like I’ll need a Masters…sigh.

      I’m curious Mary, in your specific experience as a career coach, what are some of the biggest obstacles you’ve found for people who are hesitant about initiating informational interviews? And how would you recommend overcoming those obstacles?

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  • CurryPRProf

    Excellent advice that mirrors what I tell my students day-in and day-out. Informational interviews are a great way to “test the waters” and get a sense of what working in a particular industry might be like…or a particular organization.

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