How The Informational Interview Helps You Get The Job

People get jobs through connections. If you don't have any, make them. And then ask yourself these five questions to prep.

Anthony Moore has the things that old folks in old movies like ambitious young whippersnappers to have: moxie, pluck, spunk, and the like. He's a new college grad with, appropriately enough, a site for new college grads, and while he is yet to land his yearned-for dream job in "content writing," he is hustling up connections--the kind that, we know, land gigs.

How so? From a hard-earned nepotism begotten from attending an elite university? From being born into immense social standing? By creating a ridiculously great "I quit" YouTube hit? No: our Mr. Moore, as a good millennial does, engineers his own nepotism.

The secret: the informational interview.

Let's allow him to tell us what that means:

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.

Let's go over why informational interviews are awesome.

Surprisingly, informational interviews yield awesome information (and contacts)

When we talked to Bob Pozen last year, the former financial heavyweight, current Harvard Business School lecturer, and recent author of Extreme Productivity said that when you're on the job hunt (or planning for your career in general), the best way to get to know if you want to work in a field (without the full-on commitment of starting a job) is to simply talk to the people who do it.

Learn the parts that rock, the parts that suck, and the parts that are surprising. People love to read "what I wish I would have known when I was 22" blog posts; informational interviews allow you to pull that refracted reflectiveness out of the professionals that you have a job-crush on.

Additionally, you can ask these successful folks what skills they wish they had right now: like, say, a fluency in data or programming or visualization. Then we can look for gigs that let us grow those skill sets or not give a damn and and learn in-demand skills on our own time.

But the knowledge ain't the only thing. Because if the interview goes well, as Moore says, you'll now know somebody in the industry. Somebody that likes you, which is the way people land jobs.

Informational interviews let you get to know each other

As Northwestern management professor Lauren Rivera will tell you, hiring is much more like dating than a hiring manager might like to admit.

Folks tend to hire people who remind them of themselves, the people who they wouldn't mind being stuck with in an airport with, the people who they "click" with. The thing is, though, when we say we "click" with someone, that's a way of saying that you have same interests, background, and goals.

Additionally, when you do the interview you can get to know the personality (or psychographic, if you want to get pedantic) of the folks in organization or industry in question. Why is this important? The informational interview, then, is a way of ferreting out that "click" with a hiring manager. In a lightly Machiavellian sense, you could better learn to tailor your self-presentation to the hiring person's own self-perception.

Ok, so how do you do them?

When you get into the informational interview, you need to come prepared. Luckily Moore has prepared a few starter questions. Like:

  1. What's your day-to-day look like?
  2. If you wanted to break into your industry, what would you do?
  3. What are a few common entry-level jobs?
  4. What next steps do you think I should take?
  5. Do you know about any openings?

Oh, and as you ask these questions, be sure to listen deeply and take notes of what they say.

And how do you get them?

Everybody is insanely busy, so getting meetings is an art unto itself.

So how do we get them? Remember Professor Rivera's insight into the fact that people like it when people remind them of themselves? Go for the most immediate--and well documented--commonality: The school you went to.

As Moore says, hit LinkedIn and look up your college's alumni database. Then flatter them with your ask, get the interview, become best friends, and follow up.

Hat tip: Brazen Careerist

[Image: Flickr user Martin Fisch]

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8 Comments

  • Dave Rothacker

    totally nails why we need to call it something else. I don't know, guidance seeking? Then we need to figure out a way to weed out the job-seekers.

    One of the most important part of a real interview is asking for referrals at interview's end, for someone as gracious as your interviewee who could also provide guidance. If the interview has gone well, I've seen interviewees make the call right there. "Bob, Robert here, listen you need to talk with Susan...etc."

  • Kris

    I agree that informational interviews can be very useful for a variety of reasons. That said, this approach has been around forever. I read Fast Company because the articles are generally thought-provoking and on the leading edge. A piece on informational interviews is out of place in a section called "Leadership Now." I've read your articles for a while. Kick your talent up a notch. Rather than writing about work, go to work for a few years. Work your way up in a highly successful company. Live the work life that Fast Company readers do. The depth and breadth of your articles would be unmatched. You wouldn't regret it and neither would your followers.

  • plozar

    Back in my Silicon Valley days (1980's), when I was an officer in a professional organization, I was called repeatedly by young job-seekers who wanted "informational interviews." A few actually did, but most were looking for a toe in the door of whatever company I worked for. Now when I hear the phrase "informational interview," I run rapidly in the opposite direction.

  • Kathi Rohde

    What do you think is the best way to show someone that you are genuinely looking for information and not trying to get "a toe in the door"? I need to do an informational interview for a college class and most people seem to react like you do, run the other way - fast.

  • Frances Yun

    I agree that informational interviewing is awesome, but I wouldn't approach it with the idea that it would lead to getting a real job. I did a bunch of informational interviews at the end of college and it was pretty nerve wracking. Alumni were pretty receptive and willing to talk to me, but they weren't really in the right position to hire. It felt a little awkward to even ask, since you typically frame the informational interview as purely for information. Totally depends on who it is though and agree that it could potentially open up some good connections.

    I'm building a site to get people the awesome info from informational interviews. Check it out if you can -- http://www.sixquestions.co/exp...

    Cheers
    -Frances

  • Anthony Moore

    Drake,

    It's Anthony, from StuffGradsLike. Dude! You just became my new favorite homie. I'm so flattered that a company as prestigious (and fast) as Fast Company (get it? Hilaaaaaaarious, I know) would tip their hat to me.

    Thanks for the awesome post, broskie. I'm sharing this article all over the interwebs as we speak!

  • Eric

    Did you seriously just post that grammatical mess on an article that made you look good? No wonder you're still looking for a job.