Ask A Job Coach: What the Heck Is An Informational Interview and How Do I Snag One?

Businesspeople having lunch indoors.Dear Job Coach:  I’m considering leaving my current job.  I am unfulfilled, there is little room for growth, and frankly my boss is driving me completely insane.  I have sent out a few resumes and I am not getting any hits, call-backs, or any  follow-up.  I have heard about something called an informational interview. What is it and will this help me with my job search? I really need some help here.  Irritated Irene

Dear Irene:

I love a great informational interview.  If there were a part of the job search I love most, it would definitely be this.  Did you realize only 20% of job openings are listed online?  The other 80% are filled internally or via word of mouth referral.  Crazy right? So how do you locate that 80% sweet spot, the informational interview (cue fireworks, streamers, and mood lighting)! One out of every 200 resumes (some studies put the number as high as 1,500 resumes) results in a job offer. One out of every 12 informational interviews, however, results in a job offer. How do you like them odds?

An informational interview is an informal conversation with someone working in a

n area of interest to you who will give you information and advice. It is an effective research tool in addition to reading books, exploring the Internet and examining job descriptions.  It is also the perfect opportunity to sell yourself and put you on the radar should any of these hidden jobs come available.  The purpose of the informational interview is to position yourself not to ask for a job.

Here are four quick tips towards setting up these meetings and some pointers about how to really sell your self.

1) Identify your target market- set up a lunch or coffee date – Where do you see yourself in your next position?  Identify those people currently in those roles or people who can help you locate these individuals. Be realistic – Identify people who you have a connection with, that you can connect with via LinkedIn, who will readily see your skill set, and be willing to give you much needed advice.  Sure, I want to speak with the CEO of (insert fancy pants company) but will this person remember me tomorrow?  Run that litmus test.

2) Do NOT Ask for A Job- What!? I thought the purpose of the informational interview is to find hidden jobs?  It is, but you have to go about this with a bit of finesse.  No one likes a mooch or beggar.  The informational interview is is not about a job, it’s about meeting someone, getting to know what they need, and letting them know what you want out of your next position.  I tell every interviewer to treat every connection like this person could be a possible mentor.  You wouldn’t beg your mentor for a job, would you? (If so….that is an entirely different discussion).

3) Pitch Yourself Precisely and Come Prepared- Be prepared to tell your story succinctly and with clear goals. Make certain when you leave that the individual knows what you are looking for and the three key strengths you bring to the table. Make it easy for them to think of you and share your story with others.” Think “help me, help you.” Do your research, no one likes to blankly stare at someone over coffee….awkward, right? Lead the conversation- ask questions, this is a two way dialogue.

4) Say Thank You – Just like any other interview, follow with a thank you note.  I love a handwritten note, no one takes the time to put pen to pad these days.  Send your thank you via email, or in the mail, same day. You will be surprise how far a good and insightful thank you note can take you.

Have you used an informational interview to your advantage? Have any tips to share? Let us know!

Have a question for The Job Coach?  Shoot us an email at or just reply in the comments below.  We will run your answers every Wednesday!

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