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Informational interviews can make all the difference in your job hunt. Meeting with someone who may be able to share insights or information with you to improve your job search prospects is a key job search and networking strategy. Do you know how to ask for them? Or why?

Talking to people about their jobs and companies is a great way to (1) learn about people and organizations and (2) introduce yourself, your skills and accomplishments to people who will (hopefully) like you and want to help you with your plans.

Every time I talk to clients about informational interviews, I always emphasize the importance of approaching contacts NOT as a job seeker, but as someone who is simply gathering information. I recently met a woman who mentioned she was doing a lot of networking — talking to a lot of people — but without any results. I explained to her that she wasn’t really networking.

What’s the difference between telling everyone you’re looking for a job and networking?

Going around, telling everyone you meet that you’re looking for a job and hoping they can help is not networking; it’s job seeking. Don’t confuse the two. When you walk around with a metaphorical “J” for job seeker on your forehead, most people will nod and smile, when you talk to then — they may even say they’ll try to help you. But, it’s unlikely any of these people will become your ally.

Think about it:

If you say:

“I am looking for an opportunity working in _____, and I would like to talk to you about positions at your organization,” you aren’t likely to land a meeting unless your target contact has a job opportunity in mind. No one wants to disappoint another person, so if your target has no job in sight, he or she is likely to suggest that you send your resume to HR.

That tact will not help you get your foot in the door, and does not connect you one-on-one to a potential ally.

If you don’t know of a job, and someone asks for your help because they are looking for a job, do you want to disappoint the person?

Probably not.

What if, instead, you can convince yourself and your contact that you are looking for INFORMATION – not a job?

Make a point to say you don’t expect the meeting to result in a job. Don’t even mention you are looking for a job.

See the difference:

“I’m so impressed by what you are doing at (organization name), and I noticed on your LinkedIn profile that you began your career in retail — just like I did! I would love the opportunity to hear how you made the transition so successfully into a high-tech organization. It would be great to have a chance to ask you some questions about your company and your career.”

Be polite, but persistent. Explain you are gathering information, not expecting a specific opportunity as a result of our meeting.

“I understand your company isn’t hiring right now. I’m really just researching organizations and hoping to learn a thing or two from a successful professional like you!”

If your targeted contact is not interested, ask for a referral:

“I understand that you are too busy to meet. Is there someone else in your department who might be able to speak with me?”

The fact is, most people love to talk about themselves, and few of us have a willing audience for our stories! Ask yourself, if someone called you and  requested that you share your story and information about your organization (assuming you weren’t working with classified information), what would you say? I would bet that most of you would be willing to help.

So, take the plunge. Find some contacts and land some informational interviews!

photo by KMC designs

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  • I can honestly say that something like this didn’t cross my mind until now. Yes, people like talking about themselves and their successes. Good point!