The informational interview is a career tactic that I haven’t used to its full potential, but some of my most successful friends and colleagues have so I thought I’d share it with you. Basically, at any time (immediately after reading this article), by simply picking up the phone and asking a higher level manager in the company for an informational interview, you can greatly increase your odds of first landing an interview and then landing a job that you may not have even known about or been considered for previously.
Here’s How It Works
Let’s say your company doesn’t even have any attractive jobs posted or you don’t see much growth in the near term. There’s still substantial benefit to be derived by employing this tactic by just getting your name out there and expressing interest. Your resume is no longer a piece of paper to that Director in some distant group, there’s now a face and a personality to go with that future resume culling exercise.
- Identify 2 or 3 areas of interest for a future role, possibly at 1-2 levels higher than your current level.
- Pick up the phone and introduce yourself to what you estimate to be the hiring level in the group (usually manager, director or even VP if you’re already mid-level management) and ask if they’d mind sitting down with you for a few minutes so you could learn more about the area and what sort of experiences and projects might prepare you for a role in said area some time into the future.
- 9 times out of 10, they’ll agree. After all, it’s rather awkward to just say, “NO, I don’t want to talk to you” and even though it may chew up 30 minutes and they don’t see the value initially, you’re highly likely to land some meetings.
- Don’t make it about yourself and promoting your interests. Make it obvious that you’re really looking to learn more about the area.
Informational Interview Questions:
- Can you tell me more about how the group functions, how it’s structured, who your stakeholders and customers are? I have a pretty good idea about how the group works, but I’d like to learn more.
- What kind of roles and assignments would help prepare me for a role like this?
- Can you tell me about your background and others within the group? I’m interested in what kind of backgrounds and roles existing employees had to get here.
- Is the group growing or do you foresee any departures in the near term? I’m curious if there will be an opportunity in the next year or so.
- As we’ve seen, the company’s constantly changing; what kind of changes do you see for the group moving forward?
After the Informational Interview
Make sure to thank said hiring manager for their time and emphasize how informative and helpful it was. Perhaps send a hand-written note (old-school, but makes and impression) or an email. I’m on the fence on this one, but if you don’t think it would seem obnoxious, perhaps attach your resume to your thank you email. In most cases, the manager will have asked you about your background already as a point of casual conversation. But if not, or for some added benefit, if you attach your resume with a note like “in case you think I might be a fit for a future role, here’s my resume”, they’re likely to open it and read it out of curiosity and they’ll have it on hand if the topic of a new opening comes up in the future.
- It shows you’re interested.
- It shows you’re ambitious.
- When a new posting goes up, you may not even catch it or hear about it otherwise. Perhaps there’a an internal leading candidate that they’d just assume give it to in the absense of meeting you. However, after your informational interview, perhaps the hiring manager picks up the phone and let’s you know about the posting or says “I have the perfect candidate for the job” and already starts to sway the selection process before you’ve even interviewed!
- They might even create a position for you! Not that it was the result of an informational interview, but more than once, I’ve had director-level interest in just creating a position for me knowing what I could bring to the table and my past experience. If they don’t know you, it would never happen. If they do, and you demonstrate your ability to operate in ambiguous situations, lead and execute, perhaps when the budget allows for a new head, they’ll just pick up the phone and offer to create a role for you!
- It gives you a leg up on other candidates they don’t know.
- You may actually learn enough about the job that you determine it’s not where you want to be after all…and you save yourself and others the time and effort later for a full-day formal interview.
- It may light a fire under your boss’s butt to retain you – with either better assignments, potential for promotions in-house or better annual compensation. If you’re projecting your interest in leaving (within appropriate bounds), it’s a subtle way to get some action when you might have been ignored otherwise.
- This tactic annoys some people. One of my friends told me specifically NOT to ask for an informational interview with his director since he always gripes about how it pisses him off. The thinking there is, if he already knows you, don’t waste his time. If he wants to interview you, wait for a job posting and go through the formal process.
- You may be perceived as a but-kisser or playing office politics by your peers. Who cares? If you’re legitimately interested in an area and not abusing the practice, it’s a reasonable exercise.
- Your boss may not be pleased. Before picking up the phone and talking to prospective new bosses, you should first make sure your management knows you’re considering a career move within the next year. If you’re 3 months into a new job, it’s probably not the best time to be conducting informational interviews, as it may appear as though you’re not happy in your new role and inevitably, it will get back to your boss. But you could also play it as just a typical long-term career choice strategy and highlight to your boss that you’re not looking to leave now, but interested in what types of experiences and projects in your current role might make you a more attractive candidate for future roles.
Now, go track down some leads and set up some interviews!
Have You Ever Tried the Informational Interview?
Did it work Out?