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Informational Interview, your first step to the job interview

informational interview

1st rule: Do not talk about a job at an informational interview

The informational interview can serve a couple of purposes:

  • Afford the opportunity to gain insight into the company or industry that you would not be able to if you were left to your own research.
  • The opportunity to network. These contacts could range from others in the industry, the company you are interested in – all the way to the decision maker that has a job opening.

If you were thinking about buying a car or a big screen TV and you had a friend that had purchased a similar model to what you were interested in, you would probably pick their brain on the purchase. The informational interview is no different. You are about to make one of the biggest commitments of your life with a new job. Your job will provide for your family and take up most of your waking hours.  You absolutely should try to get the lowdown on the new company/position.

Advice to land and succeed in the informational interview:

The first rule of the informational interview:  You do not talk about a job at the informational interview. Don’t make it something it isn’t. Even if you happen to land an informational interview with a decision maker, you DO NOT talk about a job at the informational interview. You asked for an informational interview, not a job interview.

A few more rules of the informational interview:

  1. Don’t’ ask for a job
  2. Give the process and the person the same respect you would a job interview
  3. You are not going to turn this into “the” job interview
  4. See rule 1

The informational interview is a fact-gathering mission. When I take an informational interview, I take it under the pretense that someone wants to learn about HR or the company/industry I work in.  I do not take it under the pretense that I am going to be asked for a job, or pressured to help them find a job. If that were the case, that should have been asked for that up front, and like most people, I would have politely declined the interview.  (Somebody had to say it). It is assumed that I know the candidate is looking for a job, but at this point in time, this is an audition, and you can think of me as Howard Stern of “America’s Got Talent” or Simon Cowell from “American Idol”.  The informational interview is an opportunity for you to make such a good impression, the help is offered. If you land an informational interview with a decision maker, they know they can offer you a job interview.  You don’t ask them for one. (Have I told you how I really feel yet?)

Treat it like an interview:

It amazes me how casually an informational interview can be treated by the person ASKING for the interview. Remember, someone is taking time out of his or her day to help you. They are probably taking time from their own work schedule and may or may not know you personally. Treat this time with respect.

Approach the informational interview as an audition to getting the actual job interview or to meeting others that can help you get a job interview. If I am giving an informational interview to someone, I want him or her to give me the confidence that they are not going to embarrass me when I make a referral to someone in my network. How they treat me is how I assume they will treat my network.  Trust me, I f***in protect the network because it IS my bread and butter. This means:

  • Respect the time. Show up on time and end the meeting at the agreed upon time. You can always ask for another meeting, but abuse this first meeting and you probably won’t get another. Ask for 30 minutes, hope for a little longer.
  • Demonstrate that you know how to present yourself. Arrive looking respectable and appropriate for the position or topic you are going to discuss.  If you have never met this person, t-shirt and jeans are probably not appropriate. Even if you know this person, show that you are serious about how you present yourself. (The person they want to refer you to may be conservative and not appreciate the t-shirt/jeans attitude)
  • Take notes. Nobody knows that you have a photographic memory. If you aren’t taking notes, then you are giving the impression that what is being discussed isn’t worth remembering or worse, you will forget.  It’s all about perception.
  • Come prepared. An agenda, specific questions and a goal for the meeting will help give confidence that any meeting you are going to be referred to will be productive.  (It would be impressive if there were high-level overview before the in-person meeting)
  • Do not ask for a job or expect to get a job.  I work in an HR department and contrary to popular belief I am not able to just “get someone a job”. Most CEO’s and owners of their own company’s aren’t able to just “give someone a job” to be realistic about the expectations.
  • Meet in a location convenient to the contact and at least offer to buy coffee. Most employed people usually try to pick up the coffee or lunch, but when the gesture isn’t even made, it is easy to feel taken advantage off. Advice and a free lunch????  WTF people!  When in doubt, buy!
  • Send a thank you note. It is a nice touch and a show of common courtesy that gives confidence you will do the same for the person you are referred to.

Landing an Informational Interview:

If you are looking for an introduction to meet someone who may be a second-degree connection, make it easy on your 1st-degree connection to make the introduction. Write the introduction email for them so they:

  1. Don’t have to do any extra work.  
  2. Don’t have to worry about you asking for a job and embarrassing them.

Let’s say you know Jack.  Jack knows Joe. Your goal is to meet with Joe.


Hey there, how are Suzy and the kids?  I hope the Holiday Season treated you well. As you know, I am trying to break into the publishing business and saw on LinkedIn /  Facebook that you know Joe Smith at Acme Publishing. I was wondering if you could do me a big favor and make an online introduction so I could set up an informational interview. I know from experience that these things can be a little touchy, but I promise I will respect his time by limiting our meeting to 30 minutes and I won’t ask him for a job.  I will also meet him near his work, and of course, the coffee is on me. I am interested in learning more about what it takes to be successful at Acme Publishing and the corporate values of the company. If you want, you can just cut and paste the following:

Hey Joe,

I have a buddy I have known for a while that is interested in learning more about Acme Publishing.  I know this is a little out of the blue, but I promise you that he will make it easy for you. He will buy coffee, meet you near your work, and won’t take up more than 30 minutes of your time.  Lastly, he will NOT ask you for a job. He is a stand-up guy and I would really appreciate it.


  • After you land the meeting, reinforce that you have some specific questions about “x,y, and z” so your contact can come to the meeting mentally prepared.  This also gets them thinking about other folks you could be introduced to.  You want to give AS MUCH TIME AS POSSIBLE to think about this.
  • Take just 3 minutes, (hopefully less) to explain your background and what your goal is for the meeting.
  • Ask for specific advice. Don’t be general or vague.
  • Ask if you can connect with them via LinkedIn.
  • Ask if they know anyone else you could talk with.
  • Ask if there are any introductions YOU can make.  How can YOU help them?

Regardless of how well you know this person, keep the questions and the tone of the session positive! DO NOT present any negative questions, assumptions, etc.  They may already know you are cynical, but show them you can be professional and REPRESENTTTT!

Below are a few sample informational interview questions that are commonly asked.

  • I saw the values of the organization on the website, but in your words, what does the company/department, manager, team value?
  • What is the culture of the company?
  • Are there regularly scheduled reviews or is this a self-managed culture?
  • What attracted you to this position/company/department?
  • I can only imagine that 100’s of folks applied for this position (yes, we are sucking up) Why do you think you were picked for this job over the other candidates?  (Trying to figure out what a successful candidate looks like)
  • Does the team socialize outside of the office? (Some people want to hang out with their teams, others do not.  We don’t want to ask this question in such a way that it comes off as a negative).
  • Can you recommend other persons in your field / worked at this company / is a vendor to this company, to whom I could speak?

Informational interviews are just another way to make your job search more efficient and extend your network.  Just remember the first rule of the informational interview.

See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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