what should I say to terrible networkers?

A reader writes:

I work in a high-profile field that’s extremely hard to break into. As I’ve become more successful, I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me and ask if they can have some of my time to ask some questions. I’m usually happy to say yes to these requests, and either answer questions via email or through a short phone call.

However, the past few times I’ve become dismayed with some parts of the conversations, and I’m wondering if I should be giving feedback, especially to the recent grads, on what works and doesn’t work with this kind of networking.

For example, I always ask people to email a list of questions to me in advance. I say it’s so I can prepare, but it’s also because I want to make sure they’ve put some thought into what they want to ask. Unfortunately, all too often the questions are impossibly broad ( “How do you break into this field?”) or asking basic information (“What are the biggest companies in the industry?”). It feels like a waste of time for me to answer questions they could easily google.

Second, while I love my work and I’m very enthusiastic about what I do, I try to share some of the negatives of this business. For one, most people starting out don’t make very much money. In fact, many people, myself included, do this work part-time at first while working another job. Obviously, that’s not fun to hear, but I feel like that’s the sort of info people want from this kind of informational interview. However, some of these networkers really push back hard when I tell them this — they mention a friend of a friend who was very successful right away, or they express skepticism that I’m telling the truth. Now, nobody has to believe what I say (and I usually respond by saying, “Well, I hope you’re the exception!”) but it feels rude when someone discounts what I’m telling them right off the bat.

Third, I often find that these networkers put too much emphasis on the idea that I’m going to connect them with other people in the industry and create some kind of shortcut to success. I can sometimes make referrals, but I only do that if I think it’s mutually beneficial — not just because someone asks. Recently I had a networker who barely kept up the pretense of wanting to talk to me, but instead seemed way more interested in me as a conduit to other, more important people. Which is naturally insulting.

Finally, while I’m happy to spend 20 minutes on the phone, I can’t do more. And yet half the time people ask me to look over their work and give detailed feedback — something that can take several hours. One college student just assumed that I was going to do that, and acted as though the phone call was a formality. He was very discouraged when I said no, and I was too, because I thought I was helping him by answering questions and clearly he didn’t really care.

I’ve had a string of these experiences lately and it’s making me want to start saying no to people who ask for my time because it’s too frustrating. But I also wonder if there’s an opportunity here for me to circle back and say something like “I really enjoyed speaking with you, but I have some pointers if you do another one of these informational interviews in the future.”

What do you think?

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

{ 180 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. What's in a name

    As far as not Googling for answers first I’m seeing more and more people who can’t seem to be bothered. While some people seem to be better at internet searches than others too many seem to not even try. There are times I just want to ask them why they don’t try searching first as they clearly have access to the internet as they have just used a computer to ask their question.

    Reply
      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I think that’s true — but they’re looking for the interaction because they have an agenda; they hope the interaction will lead to a job lead. That’s what makes it a bait and switch. They’re asking for favor X when they really want favor Y, but they think think it serves their interests not to be up-front about that.

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        1. Twilight Sparkle

          In this sort of situation, I’m sure you are right. My point was intended more generally though, as to why people ask questions online when they could just Google the answers, which is what the comment I responded to was discussing.

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        2. Newby

          What should you do if you asked for an informational interview but they keep giving job leads instead? I am trying to transition fields and several of my informational interviews about the field turned into discussing a job they are hiring for. Is there a good way to still ask the general questions when they keep steering the conversation toward that specific job? I don’t want to signal that I’m not interested in the job, but I really do want information on the field in general.

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          1. MillersSpring

            “I appreciate the details about the specific job you’re describing, but because I’m trying to transition into the Teapot field, could we discuss the broad questions I have? For example, what is the typical…”

            Reply
    1. Matilda Jefferies

      I think I would do exactly that, actually. In addition to asking for the questions ahead of time, you could also ask for a brief description of what they have already done to find the answers.

      There wouldn’t necessarily be any “right” answers. But things like “I looked on the website for the Professional Association of Teapot Assemblers” and “I’ve been reading a lot of Rice Sculptures Quarterly,” coupled with some specific questions to show that they have in fact done this kind of research, would go a long way towards demonstrating their level of interest.

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      1. Frozen Ginger

        I feel like asking them to prove they’ve already tried to find answers is a little… presumptuous?

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          1. fposte

            But often requests for informational interviews *aren’t* disguised requests for hire, so you don’t want to be adversarial to people who are asking appropriately. You want a method of triage that’s polite enough to be fine with people who are doing it right.

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          2. Tara

            It is. But its just as rude to ask that of people who genuinely want a discussion with you as it is to do the bait-and-switch thing.

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        1. fposte

          I agree that a proof test would set a bad note, but I think it’s fine to say “Tell me what you’ve looked at so far so we can make sure we’re using our time effectively” before you give them your time. This is a request for a favor; it’s okay to kindly make sure it’s a favor you want to do.

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          1. Princess Carolyn

            Yes, I think framing is what makes the difference. If it sounds like OP is trying to assess what the networker already knows in order to give more useful advice, it will go over just fine. It’s the “prove you’ve done your homework” attitude that makes this adversarial.

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      2. Red Reader

        We put a question like that on our pre-interview assessment the last time we hired a training class. “If you’re reading a teapot report and you come across a term you don’t understand, what kinds of resources would you use to identify it?” Our general consensus was that there wasn’t a wrong answer, we just wanted an idea of what steps they might think to take on their own to find an explanation — dictionary, teapot manual, reference their textbook, Teapot Painters Association forums, ask your trainer, what have you.

        (As it turned out, there were actually several impressively wrong answers.)

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        1. Jessie the First (or second)

          Well, seriously, now you have to give us an idea of what those impressively wrong answers were!!

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          1. Red Reader

            hah! we actually work with patient records in a state-wide medical organization that has over 8,000 doctors plus a zillion residents, NPPs, and other non-physician clinicians, and we’re all remote. So the guy who said he would walk down the hall and ask the doctor was a little out of touch with our reality, though he at least got partial credit for “that would work in a much smaller facility.”

            I side-eyed the guys who replied “autopsy report” or “history and physical” as places they would go to find a definition for a medical term. I don’t think the one who replied “I don’t know!!!! :( :( :( ” even got an interview. The one who told me there are no medical terms they didn’t understand might’ve gotten an interview, but didn’t make it into the class.

            But the star “holy crap there really was a wrong answer” was the one who replied “stomach, pancreas, and saphenous vein” as their answer to “What are three resources you might check to identify the meaning of a term you are unfamiliar with?”

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            1. Angel

              >>the one who replied “stomach, pancreas, and saphenous vein” as their answer to “What are three resources you might check to identify the meaning of a term you are unfamiliar with?”<<

              Wait… what? o.O

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              1. Lora

                I don’t know about you, but my stomach whispers “croissants…croissants…” all day to me.

                That’s an interesting combination though. Like, I can see “stomach, pancreas, gallbladder” or “stomach, pancreas, liver” or “pancreas, liver, gallbladder” or “saphenous, femoral, popliteal veins” as possibly someone who was looking at the wrong question. But “stomach, pancreas and saphenous vein” doesn’t make sense.

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                1. Red Reader

                  Right! That shouldn’t even have been viable for a list of “medical terms you aren’t familiar with,” if we had been silly enough to pose that as a question.

    2. Slow Gin Lizz

      This is pretty much why I’ve never seen the point of informational interviews. If I can find most of the answers I need by googling them, why do I need to bother another human being by asking them? Yes, it’s about networking but trying to network can easily backfire, as this letter proves.

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        1. Red lines with wine

          This right here. Not everything is documented. I work in a hard-to-break-into field, and networking with people who can connect you with others for a job, for a volunteer project, for lots of things, gets you much further than having the knowledge from Google. Knowledge good, but having connections is better.

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      1. MillersSpring

        Because there are many answers you can’t find online or that are more valuable coming from a real person, not something that was posted on an online forum in 2013.

        What is the typical interviewing process? How long do people typically stay in entry-level roles? Do I need a portfolio of work samples? What character traits do you see in people who are most successful? Should I list my part-time, volunteer and summer work if it’s quasi-applicable?

        One thing I’ve learned from AAM is that many industries and countries have different norms–academic CVs, group interviews, panel interviews, take-home assignments, personality tests–and insider knowledge can illuminate those things a newbie would not know.

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      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Informational interviews are really helpful and a useful tool both for the interview-requester and the interviewee, when done correctly. It gives you valuable information you often cannot get through publicly available resources, it gives you information on specific norms/culture for that employer (and sometimes that industry), and it helps you figure out which skills to cultivate/hone. They also help a person begin to build their industry network. If they go well, there’s also a chance that the interviewee will remember you in the future.

        The limitation is that people receive really poor advice on preparation (particularly people who are new to the workplace or to that industry’s norms), and they also receive bad advice that encourages them to leverage “informational interviews” as backdoor job interviews/referrals. Both circumstances are painful for the interviewee.

        I recently did two informational interviews with two very different people. One just graduated with her masters with some work experience from between undergrad and grad school, and the other is graduating from college at the end of the fall quarter. The first person was clearly jockeying for a job, but her interests/skills had literally zero overlap with what we do. It was an awkward conversation, and she was not gracious afterward. The second person was so amazing, thoughtful, and genuine (and great with follow up!) that I really felt like I wanted to be on her team and connect her to people and resources.

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      3. Ross

        I run a theatre company – it’s basically impossible to know what it’s like or even really where to start just by going by information online and in books.

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    3. Falling Diphthong

      I have seen a few columnists respond to such queries with a post that says “Here let me google that for you” and then show the screen with the top couple of results, which have the answer. That they are bothering with the post is an attempt to ward off the many other people saying “Hey James Fallows you once wrote an article on Specific Thing, could you figure out what it was and send me the link?” when they could just google Fallows + Specific Thing and the article pops right up.

      In not one of these cases did the columnist seem inclined to hook the asker up with a new job based on their positive impression, so it’s a really weird tactic when that’s the outcome you hope for.

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    4. KarenT

      Agreed. I literally had someone who contacted me for an informational interview ask me what my title is. It’s in my email signature which they would have since we’d already been corresponding, I’m listed on our company website, and it’s in my public facing LinkedIn. I’m all for paying it forward and giving my time when I can, but it’s really frustrating when the person requesting the interview can’t be bothered.

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    5. Dust Bunny

      I think this is universal. I’m on a bunch of hobby FB groups and everyone on there does it, too. Sometimes they even say, “I probably should have googled this but . . . ” and then proceed to ask exactly what they just admitted they should have googled. Or they ask a question that’s so basic it’s obvious they didn’t google. It’s irritating–if you don’t want to know the answer badly enough to use five minutes of your own time, don’t ask for five minutes of ours.

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  2. Professor Ronny

    I ran into a similar situation with students asking questions that had easy answers. I created an FAQ and pointed them to it. When I got a question it didn’t answer, I added it.

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    1. Ann O'Nemity

      I had a professor who did that too. By the time I took his class (2 years before he retired), the FAQ was 20 pages long.

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      1. Justme

        Kind of defeats the purpose, no? If questions and answers are not easily findable in that 20 page document.

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    2. Jane Gloriana Villanueva

      I was thinking that a template for the OP’s responses would be useful. I like the FAQ idea; she’d probably want to name it something better than my provisional title, “Sooooo, Ya Wanna Network?”

      OP, I think it’s wonderful for you to take the time to answer people’s questions and honor their interest, even if it turns out to be poorly expressed. I agree that the downsides of the field or individual jobs are well worth mentioning even though it is frustrating to be disbelieved. I like Matilda Jeffries’ suggestions above, about asking what other efforts they have put forth to demonstrate their familiarity with your industry and their seriousness in collecting useful data.

      (Tangentially, I cringe, recognizing the JGV of 15 years ago calling a friend of a parent’s friend for an informational chat after my first job out of college ended after a 2-year contract wrapped up. I was generally fairly mature about workplace norms but that was once I got into the workplace via temp jobs or such… I didn’t really know where to start when it came to informational interviews or working in non-temporary positions. Unfortunately, I am sure I came off insanely green on the phone with this very successful woman; I had been given so little information about what this contact actually did, and my parents and their friend sounded sure she would just offer me a job just after getting to know me for 20 minutes via phone. When I think about it now that I find information for a living, I can’t believe I basically cold-called without a real set of aims or direction, even if I turned out to be wrong! She turned out to be a wealth of information, but I didn’t understand most of it until I had worked another 5-6 years, and while she was incredibly friendly and forthcoming, I never followed up. Even if I had had the benefits of Alison’s AAM wisdom in 2002, I don’t know that I would have understood fully why my actions needed adjustment!)

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    3. Sylvia

      That sounds like a good idea, but were the people asking these questions the same people who are likely to read an FAQ?

      Reply
  3. Clinical Genomic Scientist

    I’d be tempted to rewrite everything the LW wrote in the question with the audience as the people asking for the interviews, and simply send it to anyone who asks for these sort of interviews. If they come back to you after that, perhaps they really are interested in an informational interview where they will actually listen to what you have to say.

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    1. Jessesgirl72

      I agree. “Look, here is what this conversation is going to look like, and here is what I can’t do for you. If you’re still interested in what I have to say, email me a list of questions we can discuss.”

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      1. Liet-Kynes

        I like this, and Professor Ronny’s post above. Just have a brief FAQ written up that you can send out – here’s an answer to the boring questions, please get in touch with a specific agenda. I’m going to do that.

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        1. Lora

          Have done this, can confirm its effectiveness.

          The usual one I get asked is why drugs cost so much.

          And yeah, I think it’s universal that people often don’t want to hear the real answers. The real stuff is boring. I’ve done some really oddball stuff that people like to ask me about, and it was about 1 hour of being extremely hot and sweaty and three weeks of counting agar plates by hand.

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          1. Indoor Cat

            Wait, what is your job? You’re a medicine scientist of some kind? You had to test drugs on yourself?

            That’s so cool. But also, like, whoa.

            My job is boring to talk about *and* is known for being boring, so, you know, I don’t usually get bothered about this kind of thing.

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    2. NK

      I think this is a great idea. When I was in school we got a lot of push to set up informational interviews without a lot of context for what we should be getting out of them. I think a little form letter you could copy and paste with the would be handy on both sides.

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      1. Fictional Butt

        Yes, I agree! My school’s career center was all about informational interviews, and they gave us a basic outline of how to do them, but they missed a bunch of stuff. For instance, they didn’t tell us that we shouldn’t bring a resume (whoops!). And I really did not understand the fundamental difference between looking for a job and doing an informational interview–I had no idea that those were supposed to be completely separate (although it makes sense now). I think informational interviews are a big “learn by doing” thing, so people are going to mess up their first or second one. It doesn’t mean they are selfish, they just need some guidance.

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        1. fposte

          I think you actually should bring a resume; you just shouldn’t produce it (or even make it visible) unless you’re asked for it.

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          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            Yeah, I agree. I have occasionally requested a person’s resume for an informational interview. I’d rather the person have it available but not give it to me unless asked.

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  4. Augusta Sugarbean

    I’ve only really ever had one instance in which I tried for some networking/informational emailing. I really didn’t have a clear idea of what was the normal approach. If you are at all inclined and think people would be receptive, I think it would be useful to hear what you and your colleagues expect from them. I wanted to know about a particular field but it’s a huge field and I didn’t really know what kinds of questions would get me helpful information. There’s so much conflicting career advice out there, I think giving people more realistic expectations would be good for them.

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    1. Liet-Kynes

      Just as a rule of thumb, the questions you ask should be, as best as you can predict, questions that only they or someone in their position could answer. Get specific and detailed.

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  5. Liet-Kynes

    I’ve had several networkers hit me with those broad, meaningless questions, and I shut it right down. “I’m sorry, but the questions you’re asking me are too broad and too vague for me to give you an actionable answer, and so asking me them is going to be a waste of time for you and for me.” A few have gotten very offended at this, but if it’s a question you could ask anyone, it’s a question you could Google. If you’re going to bother to get someone on a phone for 20 minutes, the question needs to be tailored to them and focused on things you can turn into action.

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    1. Sara

      This is the worst! I shut this right down too. The worst was this grad student who wanted to talk to me about ideas for her thesis project that related to my work, and her first question was, “What are some issues in the field I could write about?”

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  6. Lora

    There’s a lot of grown adults working in startups in my field who think that magically they will be the exception – it gets, if anything, even more insufferable.

    Yeah, because Big Pharma doesn’t like money, doesn’t have the resources to hire smart people, and because genius scientists prefer to work in some shared office incubator space that looks like a grubby garage and have to sign up for time on a 10-year-old mass spec than work in a shiny new lab with a $3M capital budget for equipment. Dream on, my fine feathered friend.

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  7. Anon16

    Eh, as a recent grad who’s tried/trying to networking route, sometimes my questions begin as fairly broad and the conversation will elicit more detailed/specific questions. I understand if it’s easily googleable (I really try to avoid that), but sometimes getting the basic perspective is helpful and then I like to delve into it further once we’ve started talking. Theoretically, if I know absolutely nothing about the industry, basic answers from a human being vs. a blog post online (?) where I can follow up with more specific questions can be helpful. My most successful information interviews have been a little bit more free flowing and less focused on “interviewing”/rigid Q&A.

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    1. Matilda Jefferies

      I think sending questions ahead of time is less about developing a rigid Q&A type structure, and more about demonstrating that the requestor has put some thought into it. So the “networkee” doesn’t find themselves sitting in a meeting that has no agenda at all, answering questions like “what kind of education do you need?” and “how soon can I take vacation time?” And a bit of what I said above, to show what you already know about the topic.

      If you really did want to start with the basic perspective and delve into it further as the conversation progresses, even just writing that down for the networkee would be helpful, so they know what they’re getting into.

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      1. Anon16

        “What kind of education do you need” is a question you can google. Asking about vacation time is sort of a weird question that would only make sense to ask during an interview for the position. I’m referring to questions more like: “What is your day-to-day like?”, “What do you enjoy/not enjoy about the position?”, “what projects are you currently working on?”, etc. Broad/basic questions that my elicit more information or an interesting conversation but Google wouldn’t necessarily return.

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        1. Matilda Jefferies

          No, exactly. Those are meant to be examples of questions not to ask, and that also might pop out if the person requesting the interview hasn’t done any prep beforehand. Asking them to send a list of questions doesn’t mean that anyone is married to that particular list, it just gives a general idea of the person’s level of interest and knowledge beforehand. If it turns out that they really haven’t put any thought into it, then the interviewee can politely decline, or suggest that the interviewer search out X, Y, Z sources first.

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  8. C Average

    It would be a fantastic service to professional humanity if everyone everywhere would follow Alison’s advice about this.

    That is all.

    (I say this as someone who has both been and dealt with the clueless n00b.)

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  9. k

    Part of the blame for this lies with the career-advice industry, which tends to encourage people to do really aggressive networking, and even outright encourages them to frame these requests as “informational interviews.”

    This was the first thing I thought of. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen that advice! You see it on tv and movies too; the plucky young grad goes for coffee with someone in the industry and comes home with a job. For a long time I actually thought that the only purpose of these meetings, and networking in general, was to meet someone that would hire you.

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  10. Ann

    The lack of empathy for job searchers in this question is alarming. Did you have to jump through hoops and find alternative job hunt strategies when you found a job? No? Well then spend some of that salary and make the time. Especially in fields that are hard to break into. You have the privilage of working. Share the knowledge and contacts that you have.

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    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Whoa, I’d say you should read the question more carefully. She wants to spend time helping people (and is); she’s frustrated that when she does, they’re not making good use of the time.

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      1. OP

        Thanks — I was trying to give non- specific versions of the kinds of questions I’m talking about and may have tripped people up. To clarify, I don’t mind if people ask me “how did *you* get started?” I love that question, because I have a bit of an atypical start to my career, and I feel like it’s encouraging for people to hear you don’t have to have X degree from Y school to be successful.

        It’s the general “how does a person enter your career?” questions that make me want to send a google link.

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    2. sssssssssssssssssssssss

      Yes…but not on work time. You are being paid to do your job, not screen potential new hires, unless that is actually a part of your job!

      I used to work in an Engineering firm where extra hour was tracked and as much as possible had to be “billable” to a project. I turned away all information requests (“I would just like to talk to an engineer about something general” or sales pitches) as none of that time would be billable and they had deadlines that had financial penalties if not met.

      Make the time on your off-hours and spent the salary on a coffee for the job seeker, maybe. Anything that requires answering questions that are not directly related to the job, sorry, no.

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      1. Liet-Kynes

        So glad someone else said it. Sharing contacts is Not A Thing, except in some extremely limited circumstances that generally don’t apply.

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        1. Ann

          Well, then the advice should be to stop giving these meetings at all. The subtext of all informational meetings is “can you help me get a job.” You should be honest about that. A college grad might need to know some small insider thing. But wht they are really sying is “keep me in mind if you like my resume when you hear about new jobs.” So what you actually talk about is almost irrelevant. If that is not what you want out of these sessions, dont offer them, they arent for you. Or be honest and tell recent grads that this approach is a waste of their time and they would be better off cover letter writing.

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          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            No, that’s the whole point; that’s not what these meetings are for, when they’re used well. This post talks about ways to use these meetings well:

            http://www.askamanager.org/2015/02/actually-useful-questions-to-ask-in-informational-interviews.html

            That’s not to say that there aren’t also meetings that are truly just for networking and job leads; of course there are. The problem is when someone asks for the first when they really want the second.

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          2. fposte

            I think this must just be field dependent, because I get asked for informational meetings all the time that aren’t just “help me get a job.” I work in a weird and niche element of a field that a lot of people are interested in, and while I’m sure they’d love for me to hire them they’re also genuinely interested in finding ways for their career path to get there.

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            1. Victoria, Please

              I am soooo curious about you, fposte, because I know you work in higher ed and you are MUCH SANER than average, so what IS this niche element?! Also if I didn’t know that you are not in my geographic area from other comments of yours, I’d think you might be the Big Budget Honcho here at MyU, because she is so rational and well spoken and insightful just like you. I wish you DID work here. YourU should know how lucky they are.

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          3. H.C.

            I disagree with the “subtext of all informational meetings is ‘can you help me get a job.'” portion—in college/grad school, my classmates and I did quite a bit of informational interviews to get a better feel of certain fields/specialties of our profession and see what paths are a better fit for our various skill sets and career goals.

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          4. Falling Diphthong

            If what we actually talk about in the meeting is almost irrelevant, then it is definitely not worth my time.

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          5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            Those expectations sound wildly inconsistent with every industry I’ve worked in. And I’m sure this is not what you mean, but it sounds entitled. No one owes anyone an interview, a contact, or a job lead. Networking is about building relationships, and ideally those relationships may one day lead to information/access to job opportunities.

            But no one wants to feel used, which is what happens when you emphasize the “I want you to get me a job / job lead” instead of “I want to understand this field and build relationships.” The latter will help the person requesting the meeting much more than the latter. And pointing that out does not mean the OP or anyone else is somehow selfish or dishonest about the “true purpose” of informational meetings.

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          6. hbc

            So we’re all supposed to recognize that “informational interview” is a code, and it’s the recipient who is dishonest for not being direct in response to such indirectness?

            I don’t know anyone who would say, “Well, I have jobs and contacts to give, but because she was so gauche to outright ask about it, I’ll pass. I’m going to meet with this other guy so we can talk for 15 minutes about stuff he doesn’t care about because he knew the right fig leaf term to use, and then I’ll open up my address book.”

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          7. designbot

            Yes but “help me get a job” in the sense that you’ll now know where to apply, how to present yourself better, knowing what’s important to people in the field and what’s not, what companies are hot right now… not “help me get a job” in terms of “give me a job. with you. because I asked.”

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          8. Annonymouse

            well then they should ask that instead of wasting everyone’s time pretending shouldn’t they?

            And there is such a thing as genuine informational interviews. I’m a woman working in a male dominated niche industry and if someone wanted to ask about my experience and how to turn it from a hobby to a career or anything else I’d be more than happy to help.

            If someone used it as a back way in to a job I’d be very annoyed because:

            A) they are using me and lied to me. Not the best way to get a recommendation.

            B) if they understood the industry then they’d understand I’m not in a hiring position.

            C) meeting a stranger in a superior position and essentially demanding a job or access to my contacts when I’m already doing you a favour by meeting you practically guarantees I’m not going to help you or recommend you for anything ever.

            Not being a snob but that is really entitled and shows you think you are more valuable to me than I am to you.

            Ann you seem to be demanding that the OP find jobs or share their contacts with virtual strangers they can’t vouch for.

            A recommendation is only as valuable as the persons reputation and judgement who gave it. If they recommend lots of unsuitable people or hand out high level contacts willy nilly to strangers is going to damage not only OP but anyone they might have really helped.

            Reply
    3. Mona Lisa Saperstein

      Right. I graduated from college two years ago, and for months after graduation, before I found my current position, I sent out hundreds of tailored resumés and cover letters with literally no response. Meanwhile, I saw several peers who had familial/family-friend connections in my industry (entertainment) land coveted foot-in-the-door jobs after one or two “informational interviews.” I feel like the letter writer is not really taking into account the total desperation many new grads feel at the odds of breaking into a difficult industry, especially if they don’t have an “in.”

      Since I started working in the industry, I’ve had the opportunity to chat with successful writers, directors, execs, etc. about how they personally broke in. Almost all of these success stories involve meeting someone who put them in touch with someone who put them in touch with someone who gave them a job. Leaving aside the people who don’t do basic research, I think it’s natural to hope that a meeting like this will yield a similarly helpful connection, especially when you’re new to the work world and desperate for a chance to prove yourself.

      Reply
      1. Mona Lisa Saperstein

        To clarify, I don’t mean that I think the letter writer should feel obligated to share her contacts, or that she’s wrong to be frustrated by people who are unprepared/waste her time. Just that I remember really, really well how scary and hard it is to break into an industry, and how it can feel as though gaining connections through someone who’s already in the industry is not a “shortcut” but really the only way in.

        Reply
        1. hbc

          But if it’s the only way in, then you genuinely have to network. Yes, I got a job at my neighbor’s company one summer based strictly on the personal connection with him. (There wasn’t even a job opening, I think.) It would take more than arranging one informational interview for him to do the same for some random teenager down the next street. At minimum, you would have to leave a positive impression by actually doing what you said you were going to do, which is trying to get information about the field (or at least credibly faking that intention.)

          Otherwise, it’s like getting invited to a “friendly lunch” and then getting a pitch for life insurance. You won’t have my friendship or my business.

          Reply
      2. AMT

        It sounds like she IS taking their desperation into account — she’s not brushing them off, but just wants to make them better networkers! It does NOT serve new grads well to encourage them to treat networking contacts the way she’s describing, especially cold-asking her to give up valuable contacts the minute they contact her. If they act rudely with other people in the field, however unintentionally, those people might not be as kind as the letter-writer and the well-meaning new grads might end up burning several bridges in their chosen field before they learn. Finding a job through networking involves nuance and tact, and if the letter-writer can teach this in some small part, I think trying to do so is very kind of her.

        Reply
        1. Mona Lisa Saperstein

          I don’t disagree! I was primarily responding to her assertion that “networkers put too much emphasis on the idea that I’m going to connect them with other people in the industry and create some kind of shortcut to success.” Of course asking for contacts right off the bat and being presumptuous/rude are not good networking tactics, and it’s very generous of her to want to help steer people away from this. I’m just saying that to many new grads, it can feel like connections aren’t a “shortcut to success” but rather the bare minimum for getting your foot in the door, and in some industries, they’re not wrong. So I understand why the OP is running into many people who push that request a bit too hard, and I empathize with both them and the OP, who is undeniably being put in an uncomfortable position.

          Reply
          1. AMT

            Ah, I see what you’re saying, You’re right, it really does seem like there’s a disconnect between the standard “apply online and cross your fingers” advice and the way most people actually get jobs. I can understand why some grads might have conflated getting a job organically through people you already know in real life (or who at least know people you know) with cold-calling people in the hope that they’ll connect you to that mythical job-giver.

            Reply
            1. Mona Lisa Saperstein

              Right, exactly. When you feel like all of your meticulously-written cover letters are disappearing into the online void, and then you see that similar positions are being filled by people who had inside connections, it’s incredibly disheartening and can make you wonder if you should be trying a more aggressive approach / reaching out to actual humans. Thankfully, I was lucky enough to have the apply-online-fingers-crossed method work out, but many people aren’t so fortunate.

              Reply
      3. BuildMeUp

        To be fair, the entertainment industry relies on connections and networking a lot more than most other industries, in my experience. A higher number of jobs in the industry are filled through connections (versus the standard job posting/interview format) than many other industries.

        It’s a difficult industry, for sure. But most of the successful people I know still got where they are through hard work – and knowing the right people, of course, but those people wouldn’t have recommended them to others if they hadn’t been good at their jobs in the first place.

        Reply
        1. Falling Diphthong

          I think that last sentence is key. If a contact does lead to a chain to a recommendation for a job, then it’s going to be something like “I talked to someone who was intelligent and thoughtful about that topic.” You need more than alerting them that you are out there, a carbon-based organism unable to use google and hoping to be hit by a job. (And I completely sympathize with young people being told “you need to network, it’s how I got most jobs” and how that happens is left to appear magical. Same with “it’s great to have a mentor, so line up a good one.” But it’s not who you know obliterating what you know–it’s that who knows what you know matters. It doesn’t help to be brilliant secretly in a closet, and it also doesn’t help to alert a lot of people that you happen to exist with no further argument as to why they should want to recommend you.)

          Reply
      4. Ramona Flowers

        Even if contacts are a shortcut, there are ways of actually approaching shortcuts. People won’t hire you just because you want a job but because you make a good impression. What is being discussed here is how to do that. It’s kind of like how you don’t get someone to date you just by telling people you want a relationship.

        Reply
      5. Ross

        I’m a playwright and director and it’s absolutely this – people come to me for advice now sometimes and I really enjoy making introductions or recommendations for people and companies to contact.

        Reply
        1. Ross

          Though as a writer the only real way in is to write something amazing, you don’t need to know anyone. I didn’t know a soul in the theatre industry when I wrote my first script, I just wrote it and starting sending it to all the major theatres in London and that got me noticed.

          Becoming a director or actor or producer is much harder.

          Reply
    4. Ann O'Nemity

      I disagree. I don’t think the OP owes empathy, knowledge, contacts, or any other help to people trying to break into the field simply because the OP has the “privilege of working.” I bristle that it’s an expectation or obligation. And if the OP chooses to provide any assistance, it’s reasonable to parameters on what they’re willing to do – including refusing be a recruiter or a surrogate for a simple Google search.

      Reply
    5. Sylvia

      Informational interviews aren’t an “alternative job hunt strategy,” though. That they’re being used as such is part of the OP’s problem.

      OP has stated that they want to help new people. They just want it to be a better, more useful experience.

      Reply
    6. Dust Bunny

      And a lot of us did have to do all of that. The OP actually says she started out by working part-time whiled holding down another job.

      Reply
    7. Chomps

      Also… where are you getting the idea that she is making the interviewers jump through hoops and find alternative job hunt strategies? Or that she didn’t have trouble breaking into the field in the first place?

      Reply
    8. AcademiaNut

      Knowledge and contacts are also not infinite resources.

      If you share your contacts with poor candidates – people who are clueless, or demanding, or have unrealistic expectations, even if it’s due to desperation or lack of experience – it will definitely reflect poorly on your own judgement, and your professional reputation and network will be damaged.

      And it takes time and energy to pass on knowledge, and the LW has a finite amount to give, and would prefer not to waste it on the unprepared.

      I like the idea of a FAQ the LW can pass on at first contact, reserving in person contact to people who can read the FAQ and come up with intelligent followup.

      Reply
  11. AMPG

    Why is “How did you break into this field” an inappropriate question? It seems like something that could be answered in 2-3 minutes, can’t be Googled, and could lead to some useful follow-up questions about inflection points in the process.

    Reply
    1. AMPG

      To elaborate: I spent a number of years in a small-ish, niche field, and whenever I did informational interviews with people wanting to break in, I told them how I got started, since it was a good illustration of how that field was suitable for people with a variety of backgrounds.

      Reply
      1. Matilda Jefferies

        I think it’s a great question as well, although I suppose it’s a YMMV one like any other.

        My field is similar to yours in that there are a number of ways in, including everything from several years of education to “my boss handed me this project that nobody else wanted, and it turns out that I loved it!” A lot of people don’t even realize that it exists as a profession, so lots of people do ask the “how did you get here?” question.

        Reply
          1. Matilda Jefferies

            Information management. :) Specifically, I help people manage their business records – who owns them, what they should be called, how long they should be stored, etc. Most people think of it as “just filing,” and they don’t realize that there is an entire professional discipline associated with it!

            Which is how so many people fall into it by accident – their boss tells them to clean up the files, and they realize that it’s a lot harder than they first thought, but that they also really enjoy it and want to do more of it.

            Reply
            1. BossyBoots

              Oh man. I did document control and record retention before I had kids and loved it. I had no idea it the things I loved doing were an actual field of work!

              Reply
            2. Floundering Mander

              Sooo, in the spirit of this thread, how did you get into it?

              I’m an archaeologist, and every time I go to a professional society conference and listen to the archivists talk about stuff, especially digital archives, I wish I had their job. I am that person who can spend entire days tidying up the metadata in their mp3 collection, and I devised a whole workflow for keeping my digital research materials organized. My favourite job ever was working as a museum curatorial assistant which was largely about keeping collections organized and records up to date.

              But I already have a PhD and mostly field experience, so it seems impractical to try to switch even though I’m tired of the insecurity of field archaeology. I’ve applied for archives jobs before but since I don’t have experience or qualifications in archives I’m very unlikely to get any jobs in this field. But, it seems that business records management might be a feasible “transferable skills” switch, especially if you take my bits and pieces of admin experience into account.

              Reply
    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      The question the OP mentioned wasn’t “how did you break into this field?” It was “how do you break into this field?” (As in, how does one break in?) It’s different; it’s asking a really basic thing that the person should already have researched.

      Reply
      1. mousanon

        Well no, that question still explicitly says “you” not “one”. “How do YOU ” not “How does one”

        Reply
        1. BuildMeUp

          The difference is the verb tense – since it’s present tense, they’re not talking about the OP, since she’s already broken into the field. The “you” in this case is a grammar quirk called a generic or general you.

          Reply
          1. Falling Diphthong

            Good call on the verb tense. It’s asking for This One Weird Trick that is the secret to how people get into the field, rather than about possible paths.

            Reply
            1. LN

              Yep. They’re not explicitly saying “how do *I* break into this field?” but that’s absolutely what they’re asking, just without overtly saying it.

              Reply
        2. fposte

          But the US really doesn’t use “one”; we use the generic “you.” The fact that this was present tense to somebody who had already broken into the field precludes the notion that the questioner was asking about the OP’s past.

          Reply
      2. AMPG

        Ah, OK. It does seem that I misread. Still, I feel like it’s not a bad jumping-off point for a field that’s hard to get into – those types of careers tend to have tons of misinformation about them floating around online. I feel like the same question could be asked with more grace and be totally OK (e.g. “I’ve read I should do X and Y to break into this field. Is that true, in your experience? Are there steps that work better?”)

        Reply
        1. Chomps

          I’m not an expert by any means, but I would probably ask “how did you (that person specifically) get started in this field?”, “why did you decide to go into this field?”, “what was your first job in this field?” because then you’re asking for specific information from the person instead of general info you can get from google, but you’re still getting information about getting started in the field.

          I think the key is to ask questions that are specific to that person.

          Reply
  12. TCO

    I serve on the board of an organization that’s doing really pioneering work. We get inquiries from all over the nation and world from folks wanting to adopt our model. We’re happy to help to the extent we can, but we don’t have any paid staff and we have a lot of work to get done. (Our work is the kind that people find super-inspiring but often lack the skill/capacity to carry out. They tend to contact us because they discovered our work and are just! so! excited! about it and want to talk about that excitement! more than the real work involved.)

    My main strategy is to use the same line you do: “We’re happy to talk with you; could you please let us know what specific questions you have so that we’re prepared for the conversation?” Very few people actually follow up beyond that point.

    A few other strategies:
    1) We made our website really robust, with a “how we did it” presentation, key documents that would guide others, videos, etc. We’ve thought about recording a webinar to post as well. Having so much information on our website saves us a LOT of time because people can often answer most of their own questions and only bring detailed questions to us. If they contact us without reading our website, we point them back there and then encourage them to reach out again with the questions our website doesn’t answer.

    OP, what if you made a blog with your story about how you got into the industry, answers to common questions you get, etc.? It’s a time investment on the front end but it might cut down on the time you spend answering the same questions over and over again.

    2) Sometimes e-mail is the better way to communicate because we can answer questions on our own time; sometimes the phone is better when it’s easier to talk through something rather than writing it. Don’t be afraid to limit people to whatever method you prefer.

    3) Sometimes we say no or refer inquiries to other organizations. A strategy that worked well for us recently during a super busy time was to say, “We’d be happy to talk, but our organization is in the middle of X, Y, and Z for the coming weeks. Could you please reconnect with us in a month when we’ll have availability to schedule a call?” Not a single person followed through.

    For me, the trick is to find the balance between being helpful (which my organization really wants to be!) and protecting our own time and need for balance. By asking people to do just a little bit of pre-work or follow-up before we schedule a call, we weed out those who weren’t very serious about following through with our advice anyway and can focus our help on those most likely to benefit.

    Reply
  13. Bee

    I recently received what I think was really bad advice–I’m looking for a new job, not necessarily out of my field (though I’m not really attached to my field–I’d be happy to try something new), but in a different region. Even though I’m a decade out of college and eight years into my working life, I circled back to my college career center to get some advice. They told me to set up informational interviews with people working in companies in my field in that region, because I have literally zero current connections to any of them.

    I’d not really done the informational interview before, and when I looked into it, I couldn’t find a way that would make it seem a natural thing to do. I’m already in this field, so I don’t need to ask that many questions about the field in general…and doing so would make me look like an idiot!

    Am I right that this was really bad advice? I didn’t really trust the other things they told me, such as “your cover letter is great!” (it didn’t get me any interviews, though). If not, what would an informational interview look like for someone who already works in the field?

    Reply
    1. Government Worker

      I did this when I moved cities for my current job. It was right out of grad school and I contacted a couple of alumni from my program and asked if they would have a few minutes to talk about the different players in the industry in city X because I would be moving there and looking for a job. It might have worked well for me in part because the public sector side of my industry is large and reasonably collaborative so people know a lot about a bunch of different potential employers. I also did have a few informational-interview type questions for people about the relative merits of public versus private sector in my field.

      I got a lot out of the conversations because it can be hard to tell from Googling teapot agencies and teapot consulting firms that all do teapot analytics where the best jobs are for someone interested in handle curvature analysis. And when a job opened up that was a great fit for me, one of my contacts alerted me and gave me a bit of useful inside information about the department before my interview.

      I’d say the key is to be up front that you’re looking for a job and to have an idea of how the person you’re contacting can help you. If you don’t have real questions for the person, don’t ask for their time.

      Reply
    2. Language Lover

      It’s not necessarily bad advice. It depends on how you do it. I recently had an informational interview with a woman in my profession but who works in a different specialty than I do and she’d like to move into my field. We met for lunch. She offered to pay but I declined. We had a casual conversation about what I do, what I like about what I do, what knowledge gaps I had to fill when I moved into this specialty that weren’t covered in school….etc.

      We talked about our work histories and how we ended up where we did. I told her about a local professional organization that had periodic meetings and invited her to one. That was probably the way I helped her the most. I also introduced her to other people as she had an informational interview strategy that meant not only interviewing people in the specialty but meeting with people in the specialty that worked in different settings or with different job titles.

      Never once did she give the impression that she expected me to help her find a job. She was appreciative of any contacts I could provide to help her continue with her networking/information interview strategy but didn’t demand them.

      As a result, I am happy to help her. Or if I hear of a good job opportunity that might fit her, I’ll pass it along. (I can’t get the job but leads about job postings aren’t anything to sneeze at.)

      I don’t know how easy this would be for your job but if you do feel like there are jobs you might want in your field, it wouldn’t hurt to meet with people, especially if you’re moving to a different region. They could give you tips on local networking groups or job boards you might not be aware of.

      Reply
  14. Anon16

    Also, maybe because I’m feeling particularly vulnerable lately, but it really grinds my gears when well-seasoned professionals criticize young 20-somethings for being bad at networking. I understand if they’re being flat out rude, but if they seem generally clueless/confused, isn’t that natural? Something like networking especially is going to take some initial bumbling and awkwardness. If you’re not used to it/don’t understand it, it’s awkward and you might get it wrong initially.

    Reply
    1. Liet-Kynes

      “I understand if they’re being flat out rude, but if they seem generally clueless/confused, isn’t that natural?”

      Honestly? It really depends. There’s “I’m really new at this and kind of awkward and don’t know precisely the right questions, but I’m being thoughtful about how I approach you and I’m doing my best” clueless/confused, and there’s “I can’t be arsed to do so much as a Google search or attend a job fair before I start wasting your time and mine both with questions that are so vague and shapeless that you can’t even answer them” clueless/confused.

      Reply
      1. Anon16

        I don’t know. I think asking vague shapeless questions might fall more under “inexperienced” and not “rude”. Google searches aren’t always helpful as jobs/professions can vary a lot from industry to industry and from organization to organization.

        Reply
    2. Always anon

      I can see what you mean, but I think there’s a distinction between not having the social skills to appear totally smooth and professional in an interview, and not putting in the effort to learn basic facts about the field. Any young person I know would have googled all the basics before even setting up the informational interview, and most likely prepared questions, too. It’s reasonable to criticise people for not putting in any effort other than showing up, when the more seasoned person is taking the time to help. That puts the onus on the younger person, imo.

      Reply
    3. KTM

      Along the same lines as Always Anon, I think there’s a (sometimes subtle and sometimes obvious) difference in being a bit awkward and being ‘bad’ at networking. I tend to easily forgive awkwardness or some confusion on professional norms, but if someone is behaving poorly in a way that isn’t really about networking, then I’m less forgiving. For example, if you’re asking for my time but then obviously are not invested in our actual conversation or looking to use me to get to someone else, that to me reflects more on someone as a person than their ability to network. My biggest pet peeve is similar to the OP’s comment about someone arguing with them – know that you’re the one asking for someone else’s time and opinion and be respectful.

      FWIW I wouldn’t be as bothered as the OP about the broad/general questions as I think they’re a way to start the conversation, but that’s just my opinion.

      Reply
    4. fposte

      Yes, it’s understandable. But the problem here is that it isn’t like teachers being frustrated with students who don’t know stuff; teachers are there to help their students learn. This isn’t the OP’s job; it’s a favor that she’s being asked to do and that she is willing, with some limits, to do.

      It’s understandable that young people living on their own for the first time may not have learned what appropriate behaviors are in a shared space, but you can still be annoyed at having to tell them to turn the music down.

      Reply
    5. Holly

      Yes, I agree. I also don’t see the problem with broad questions. People who have been in a field may not realize that things which are “common sense” are not. Nor are things like “how to break into the field” necessarily Googlable if you don’t have the appropriate vocab to know *what* to type. I remember once I had a colleague rudely send me one of those “Let me Google that for you” things when I asked for information. Well, I had googled it but I didn’t know the secret “in” word that I needed to search. Stuff online isn’t always reliable either – as this very question shows since it condemns trying to backdoor informational interviews into jobs – information the person probably got online.I think a better approach if this information is available online is for the interview to just send the links to the right websites.

      Reply
    6. JGray

      I think you make a point about networking. I haven’t really done it and so I am probably bad at it and I have been working for over 15 years now. I can talk to people but sometimes I struggle. I also have read too many articles where young 20-somethings have a very entitled attitude. I remember one article where a gentlemen said that he had an interviewee who was a new graduate tell him that she would have his job in two years when he had been in the industry for twenty years. I’m not saying that is what is happening here but sometimes people don’t come across as being genuine & this could apply to anyone.

      Reply
  15. GH in SOCal

    I am in a business like the OPs, where some people are attracted by the instances of overnight success, and don’t want to accept that most people working in the industry followed a tougher path, with many years of working side hustle before making a good living. Those people think every coffee chat could be their Schwab’s Counter. I used to try to coach them, until I realized that it’s not my job (or my avocation) to help the clueless folks appear less clueless. I’d rather put my effort into doing what I can to help someone who already did their homework and understands how things work. The ones who are climbing the ladder a rung at a time like I did. As for the other group, they’ll either get lucky or they’ll get wise on their own schedule.

    Reply
  16. nnn

    This is why I’m surprised that network and informational interviews and such became a thing in the first place.

    I accept informational interview requests from non-strangers because I know that it’s considered a standard thing in this day and age, but I find it bothersome and unhelpful for everyone.

    But once upon a time it wasn’t a standard thing, and some young upstart gumptioned their way into a conversation with an experienced industry person and, somehow, it worked. And it must have worked repeatedly for it to become standard advice – and, somehow, became standard advice for talking your way into a job.

    So who were all these senior people who were saying yes to informational interviews back before it was normal?

    Reply
    1. ZSD

      Well, I’ve done some legitimate informational interviews when I wasn’t yet job-searching but truly did want to learn more about the fields I was thinking about. I think those kinds of info interviews are just fine. It’s the ones that are obviously fronts for trying to get a job right now that are a problem.

      Reply
      1. Government Worker

        I did, too. I was thinking of going back to grad school and set up informational interview with some alumni of my college and other people that friends and family connected me to. It was really useful to get a better sense of the industry, what I should be looking to get out of a graduate program, whether I even needed to go to grad school, etc.

        I probably came across as a little clueless, because it can be hard to ask intelligent questions about an industry that you’re not a part of. But I had clearly done my homework and prepared some reasonable questions,and I kept the phone calls to 20 minutes or so. Most people were very friendly and seemed glad to talk to me.

        Reply
      2. Fictional Butt

        Yes, once I figured out that they were truly just to learn about the field–not to try to get hired immediately–they became immensely more useful. I mean, why would you ever commit to a field WITHOUT having some serious conversations with people who are already working in it (especially if you have to pay for education)? And it’s easier to have those conversations when you aren’t trying to get hired at the same time.

        Reply
      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Me three. It made a huge difference (in a good way) in how I approached my career.

        Reply
    2. Ramona Flowers

      I’ve done some legit ones. One of the people I advised now writes for outlets I could never have dreamed of breaking into and I’m in awe of how she ran with my advice.

      Reply
  17. ZSD

    I actually gave feedback to someone on an informational interview just last night. He just moved here and has been given the advice that he needs to meet with people to get a job, but he doesn’t seem to understand at all what he’s supposed to do once he meets them. He didn’t greet me with any small talk (not so much as a, “How are you?”), and he didn’t really have *any* questions prepared, much less specific ones. There were actually a lot of awkward pauses during which he just stared at me and seemed to be waiting for me to impart knowledge to him (or offer a job?). So I suggested that when he do these in the future, he start with a 60-90 second spiel about who he is and what he wants to do, and that he come prepared with questions for the person that are as specific as possible.

    Reply
  18. LQ

    I got a lot of these kind of interview requests at my former job (like 1 ever here) I had a sort of stock answer that was kind of if you are looking for jobs or “in’s” here’s what you want. It was a list of a couple of niche job boards, someone to email to get on a list serve for jobs, and a few basic tips about things (like make sure you research the org before you apply etc). And that satisfied most people because it felt like a little insider knowledge and actually gave people jobs to apply for. Those who still wanted more, I’d meet with and give them information and after I sort of separated that out it felt a lot more genuinely informational interviewey.

    I also had a point in my career when I did a handful of …wandering informational interviews. I wasn’t expecting a job out of any of them, but I kind of didn’t know what I wanted and it was really helpful to be able to float around in the conversations and learn more about a lot of stuff (like what people genuinely disliked about their jobs, that was seriously helpful!) I am incredibly appreciative of the people who spent time with me to tell me their stories and let me share mine and have them point me toward or away from their fields. I don’t know that I could have listed all the questions before hand that I was going to ask, and part of it was asking them what they thought based on what I had to say too which was really valuable. So to everyone who has those conversations? Thank you!

    Reply
  19. Wendy Darling

    My college’s career center pushed this kind of bogus “networking” hard. They explicitly instructed me to set up “informational interviews” with people so I could give them my resume and basically ask them to get me a job.

    I’m pretty sure this is related to the fact that if you look at the linkedin profiles of the people who work for my college’s career center, not a single one of them appears to have done any actual hiring…

    Reply
    1. Squeeble

      Along those same lines, I took some classes in college and grad school where I’d have assignments that required me to contact someone in a particular field for an interview about their work. Professors would emphasize that “people LOVE helping students!!!” and encouraged us to get in touch with people and ask whatever we wanted because they said folks would just bend over backwards to help us. I suspect that might be part of why new grads don’t do this very well at first.

      I mean, yes, professional people often do enjoy helping students who are interested in their line of work, but you have to be considerate.

      Reply
      1. Ramona Flowers

        I loved helping students if they actually prepared useful questions and showed courtesy and were willing to call me when I said that was best. Most did/were not.

        Reply
  20. Job Huntress

    So if you ARE trying to set up calls with an eye towards potential jobs, what’s the best way to approach it? I’m a graduate student interested in a pretty specific niche where very few job openings are posted publicly – it’s mostly word-of-mouth. The standard advice is to network your way into a job, leveraging your graduate school’s alumni network as a starting place to connect with managers/execs in the industry. The point here about not pretending you want information when you actually want a job (and maybe also information!) is a good one, but I struggle to come up with a smooth way of connecting with someone when your main goal is to work at that company (or somewhere like it). It seems like a cold email with your resume is unlikely to work, so what’s the middle ground? Would love thoughts from anyone :)

    Tried searching the archives for answers but didn’t see anything super relevant (maybe I’m not using the right keywords?)

    Reply
    1. Mouse

      I’m curious about this too! It seems unlikely that reaching out to a stranger and saying “hello, I’m looking for a job, let’s have coffee” will go very far. I doubt anyone would even reply to that. So if you do want face-time with a person, it kind of has to be framed as an informational interview. So is the answer to just skip the idea that face-time with a person is valuable when job searching?

      Reply
    2. fposte

      In my field, you’d send along a resume and relevant samples of work, saying “I’ve admired your work for years and Jane Warblesworth raves about you; I’d love to work for you if an opening appears.” You might add “I’d love to take you out to coffee and ask about future possibilities with your organization,” but really if I’m willing to have coffee with you I’ll suggest it after the first sentence on its own.

      What often works better, though, is a question about meeting up at an upcoming conference: “I’m going to the Teapot Annual in July and I’d love to meet with you if you’re going to be there as well.” Conferences are about networking anyway and they’re kind of inchoate, so it’s less like intruding on my workday; it also demonstrates that you’re both aware of my likely participation and active enough to be participating on your own bat.

      Reply
    3. Government Worker

      I mentioned my experience with a similar situation above. I asked my contacts for a few minutes to talk about the industry landscape in city X – not just their org, but others that they were familiar with. And I had some (very real, not forced) questions about the best places to do the very niche-within-niche work that I was most interested in, what the hiring cycles are typically like, how easy it is to move between public and private sector, etc. When it worked well I both got useful information and established the sort of connection where my contacts would let me know about job leads in the future, even if they didn’t know of anything right at that moment. And sometimes I was able to add new potential employers to my list based on ideas from the people I talked to, or remove employers where information from an industry insider make it sound like not a good fit.

      Reply
    4. MegaMoose, Esq.

      Yeah, I’m with you on that one. Posts like this always make me feel like puking because after years of reading AAM and many questions in open threads, I still feel like I don’t know how to network when I so desperately want a job. It doesn’t help, of course, that the legal field is full of its own weird quirks (like any other, I suppose). I had a bunch of coffees with people earlier this year but got really overwhelmed and discouraged and gave up for a while. I should probably get back on that. Good luck to you and all of us, I suppose.

      Reply
  21. ZSD

    No, I don’t get that at all. I think the OP is trying to be helpful and is giving honest advice, but the people asking for help are wasting the OP’s time and refusing to accept things they don’t want to hear.

    Reply
  22. Ramona Flowers

    I dealt with a lot of this when I was a journalist. Lots of people email with questions about that and, if you reply, the majority don’t even bother to say thank you – this was a depressingly common experience often discussed within my professional network and most people gave up responding as a result. We all particularly enjoyed the emails from people wanting you to answer a bunch of questions to help with an assignment due the very next day. And if you replied saying you didn’t have time to answer by email but they were welcome to call, you’d usually never hear from them again. So clearly completely cut out for a career that involves constantly calling strangers!

    I eventually added a section to my website for people wanting to become journalists with links to some useful articles and websites (including an ‘about my job’ interview I did for a graduate careers site) and pointed people to that.

    Reply
  23. motherofdragons

    The only inkling I got of that was from this: “Recently I had a networker who barely kept up the pretense of wanting to talk to me, but instead seemed way more interested in me as a conduit to other, more important people. Which is naturally insulting.”

    The OP might find it insulting, but it seems pretty standard (or at least common), and sounds like that networker just went about it indirectly and kinda bumbled it. But otherwise, I totally get the OP’s desire to want to help people while also valuing her own time and energy. Some of the behaviors of these networkers strike me as annoying at best/rude at worst, like being skeptical at the OP’s lived experience or balking that she declines spending several hours reviewing their work.

    Reply
    1. Hrovitnir

      Ignoring the fact you’re responding to someone who I assume took umbrage at the OP’s entire letter, I think the difference in effect between “I want to talk to you and hope to make further connections from it” and “I am using you as a direct conduit to influential people with no appreciation for what you do” is huge, even if they’re not wildly different in motivation.

      (And overall I agree. It seems like some people are reading a lot into this letter from their own frustrations.)

      Reply
  24. Elizabeth West

    I JUST read something like this yesterday. Jane Friedman (columnist who writes about publishing) posted a similar viewpoint on her blog. She quoted Steven Pressfield, author of The Legend of Bagger Vance, who calls it “the clueless ask” (link to his post in her post below). Writers get a lot of asks like this–“Will you read my manuscript? Will you introduce me to your agent?” etc. I’ve gotten the please-read-me one, and I don’t even have a book out yet! If you want to trade beta readings with someone you know, that’s one thing, but don’t harass writers to give you a free edit. That’s a lot of work. You should ask someone who does it for a living and expect to pay for it.

    Bottom line, if you’re looking for information, you can often answer most of your own questions by searching on your own first. We live in the information age, after all. Google the field. If you want to work at a particular company, go to their careers page. Like Alison said in a comment above, if you’re going to reach out to someone, make sure you’re making good use of their time. And let go of your preconceived notions about a particular job. You’re seeking clarification, not confirmation.

    Most interesting informational interview I’ve ever had: When I lived in CA, I was considering criminal justice as a potential career field and went to the city PD to talk to them about career paths. We ended up chatting about a local serial killer and he made an off-the-cuff remark about the guy that creeps me out to this day.

    Jane’s post: janefriedman.com/people-ask-for-help-but-who-deserves-it/

    Reply
    1. the gold digger

      I have a friend from college who is a NY Times bestselling writer. (Jeff Abbott – read his books!) Shavonne is friends with Wakeen. Wakeen also is a friend of Jeff’s – we all went to college together. Shavonne does not know Jeff.

      When Shavonne learned that Wakeen knew Jeff, she asked Wakeen to send Jeff her manuscript. She wrote this as a comment on a facebook post involving Jeff and Wakeen. It wasn’t even private or subtle.

      I have known Jeff since college and have not sent him my manuscript.

      I was appalled.

      Reply
    2. Happy Lurker

      I read this a couple weeks ago and it sure rang true when I read OP’s question. I am not sure the right place to put it, so here after EW’s comment it is:
      https://medium.com/learn-unlearn-relearn/why-i-stopped-helping-people-and-you-should-too-36d09d04784c
      This is the part that got me:
      “They don’t understand that I have a family to feed, mortgages to pay, deadlines to meet. They don’t realize that in order to make time for coffee, I would have to compensate for that lost time and stay up until 2 in the morning just to work.
      If they don’t think my time is worth any value, then I don’t have time for them!”

      It hit home for me when I read it. I think OP might find some value in it as well.

      Reply
  25. Leena Wants Cake

    I have a different issue with informational interviews: I’m only a couple years out of grad school, and was very lucky to land a good job in my field. In the past few months several friends, classmates, and acquaintances in the same field have also graduated and have contacted me asking for job searching advice. I’d be happy to help (none of them have been pushy or entitled), except that I never feel like I have any useful information to give. I spent my grad school years interning and volunteering like crazy to build experience in my field and still only got my present job because of some very lucky circumstances. What can I tell them aside from “the job market in our field is awful, and I just happened to get a lucky break because of some very niche skills the employer was looking for. Also, you should probably go back in time and build up some more relevant experience in this field”? I don’t want to be a downer, but I also don’t want to refuse to offer advice.

    Reply
    1. Always anon

      That’s exactly the kind of advice you should be giving. I’d much, much rather commit to a field knowing exactly what the job market is like and what would be helpful in getting a position in the field than commit to a field without any of that knowledge (speaking as a student considering a niche field with almost exclusive academic work for what i want to do). Being honest gives them the chance to reevaluate their priorities and how much they want to work in this field, and helps to give them ideas that they can try to put into place.

      Reply
    2. Falling Diphthong

      It sounds like you could say “Volunteer, and here are some specific places or roles that would be worth exploring” and “Think about (or start developing) any niche skills, because you never know when someone is looking for the intersection of spout design and llama braiding. Or the person you meet through llama braiding then meets someone who is looking for a spout designer.” Plus frank advice about how bad the job market is–as noted upthread, that’s really useful for people weighing whether graduate school would be worth it.

      Reply
  26. Djuna

    We do these as part of a program at work, giving people from other departments a chance to learn what we do, and we’re explicit about it being informational only.

    In these sessions, I’ve had pushback, I’ve had people argue with me about what my job is (?!), and all of that usually comes out in a review session with my boss afterwards.

    The thing people often don’t get is that there may not be an opportunity *now*, but you can also put yourself out of the running for anything that does come up if you behave badly in an info session with a person from that team/org. For example, a large part of our job involves building relationships (a lot of cross-team work), so if someone’s being adversarial while we’re offering them our time and knowledge? Well …I don’t want to see what they might do on a call when a project isn’t going their way.

    I think you’d be doing these networkers a great service by letting them know how to be more prepared/respectful of your time/graceful with the knowledge you share. Some of them may not want to hear it, but the ones who listen and take it on board are setting themselves up for future success.

    Reply
  27. OP

    Wow, it’s so interesting to read all the different comments! I feel like I need to clarify that I’m not in a hiring position, and people in my job generally aren’t. Obviously that’s not true for people in other industries who get these kinds of informational meeting requests, but it is for me. So the only reason why someone would contact me to learn about my job is for the inside scoop on what it’s like, how I got started, pitfalls, etc. Which I’m totally happy to share, both privately and in more formal settings – in fact I was just on a panel a few weeks ago talking about breaking into my industry at a local conference.

    And I occasionally do have the opportunity to make connections for people and I’m very happy when I can do that, but it’s really only in specific circumstances where it makes sense. Otherwise it wouldn’t be doing anyone a favor. I’m not opposed to it, but rarely would an out-of-the-blue friend-of-a-friend/recent grad fit the bill.

    Reply
    1. Hrovitnir

      I think it was clear you’re trying to help and I appreciate it! I’m glad you haven’t been totally put off by the bad experiences you have had.

      Reply
  28. Laura

    I think I’ve just found even more reasons to not bother with networking. Now I don’t feel bad about not doing it!

    Reply
  29. animaniactoo

    “Yes, in rare cases, it does happen as it did for your cousin/ex-bf’s aunt/sorority sister’s friend of a friend. However, that’s not how it usually works, and I would be remiss if I led you to believe that it is. You’ve asked for my time to learn about my experience, and this is my experience.”

    Also, I really like the idea of putting together a mini-guide to send to people who are asking, for what they should expect from an informational interview with you.

    Reply
  30. Jeanne

    It would be a kindness to tell them they are alienating people. But if they fight back, just end the interaction. They’re not worth it. Your time has value (which you know, just stressing it). If the questions they submit are too general, have a form email that says something about how you only give informational interviews to those who have already done the basic work. If they seem to want a job, have a form email for that. Then stick with the ones who have good questions. Give them your time and effort.

    Reply
  31. Maya Elena

    Even for the most tactful and respectful networker, isn’t the point of informational interviews still just getting on the radar of someone in their target field? Even if it isn’t something so crass as demanding a job, that’s still the underlying goal. When has anyone ever solicited an informational interview out of idle curiosity?

    Reply
    1. Falling Diphthong

      Not to fill idle time–we have the internet for that–but there are examples upthread of people thinking of changing fields, thinking of going back to school, or finishing school and trying to figure out which of a half a dozen possibly-relevant fields might actually involve work that they enjoy. Even for the person looking for a job, a well-done informational interview might yield “Aha, her path involved (volunteering in this role at this organization/ being really strong on the details of this adjacent field/ mastering this software); I might do something similar but not identical.” And so the contact would not yield a job, but would yield a new route that (with luck) led to a job.

      A while back there was a letter from someone in a sexy industry where even the top people didn’t do sexy things most of their time. But OP kept meeting former interns who complained that The Company gave them boring work rather than the real sexy work that they wanted to train in, and the truth was that there was no path where you got to do sexy work all the time, or most of the time, or really at all if you were at the very bottom. But people didn’t want to hear that.

      Reply
    2. H.C.

      I wouldn’t say the curiosity is idle – especially for those early in their careers or those with a diverse & transferable skill sets. Information meetings can help them figure where to take their careers next (or, maybe more importantly, what career paths/pitfalls to avoid.) When I was in college/grad school, I’ve done a fair share of these meetings to get a better idea of various industries/specialties, and I don’t think I’ve ever kept contact with any of them after my thank you notes.

      Reply
  32. Elise

    I’ve given a few of these, and sometimes I wish people would do them before they start applying to grad school, which is required for my career, and not after they’ve already spend $50K or more on the degree. That’s the most helpful moment for them to find out what it’s really like, and why a love of teapots is just not enough of a reason to pursue the field. When I describe what the work is really like, how you may have to start in a nonprofessional position even after you have a degree and that you actually need to like people more than teapots, I get a quite a bit of pushback since the national organization for my field make it sound like jobs are just being handed out left and right to anyone who has the degree.

    But, more to the point of the question. The one person who I actually do look for ways to help after our meeting was very thoughtful and asked questions that showed that she really did want the answers and not just a leg up on a job. That shows a lot about how you might be to work with, which is valuable to me if I might stick my neck out to refer you to someone.

    Reply
  33. Princess Carolyn

    OP, you’re an angel for giving these people as much of your time and thought as you are.

    If you can, try to be less bothered by the people who doubt what you’re saying about the negatives. Yes, it is kind of rude, but this denial is usually driven more by their own wishful thinking than by legitimate doubt that you know what you’re talking about — so there’s no reason to take it that way. That, along with Alison’s advice, might help you feel less annoyed by these genuinely annoying behaviors.

    Reply
  34. bopper

    Since you have had a number of these requests, I would write up a FAQ about the industry and send it to them.

    E.g…..

    How do you get started? Many people have started part time while working another job. I did that for 4 years and that is not out of the norm.
    But my friend said she worked full time right away!? Great! Ask your friend how they did it. But more typically you get your first job by….blah blah
    Will you recommend me for a job? Unfortunately, no. I don’t know you, and I don’t refer people I don’t know.
    How do I break in to the industry? Look for advertisements in or …
    Can you look at my work? Once again, unfortunately no because it takes many hours to do so. I would recommend you join a writers group on for feedback. I also can review your material professionally at $200/hour.

    Reply
  35. designbot

    Alison feel free to kill this if it’s too much of a tangent, but I’ve had this problem from the other side. When I was trying to break into my field I was invited for interviews by a bunch of firms who neglected to mention that they did not actually have positions open. On top of the usual portfolio printing and other prep, I had no car at the time so I was biking and bussing all over the city, often spending a whole day in total for an hour-long interview, once even renting a car, only to show up and be told “well this is really just an informational interview, we don’t have any work but just like speaking with new talent and seeing what’s out there.”
    I bring this up as a PSA for the people conducting informational interview: have the courtesy to tell a candidate these things before they show up. Most candidates put a lot of effort into preparing to speak with you, please have respect for that. Maybe it would be helpful for the OP to clarify this when they agree to meet saying, “I’m happy to spend a few minutes chatting with you about the field but want to be clear that I’m not in a position to hire (at this time/HR handles that/whatever’s appropriate here) so I don’t want you to get your hopes up.”

    Reply
  36. Quickbeam

    I’m an RN in a niche field I spent 30 years attaining. I spend a ton of my personal time encouraging prospective nursing students and their parents. What I can’t do is make the necessary work experience and education more convenient. I’ve long suggested that anyone interested in nursing spend a year working as a nursing assistant. The blow back I get is tremendous! When people say they or their kid couldn’t possibly work as a nursing assistant, I tell them “then this is not the field for you”.

    Reply
  37. Chaordic One

    I hate to say this, but every once in a while an informational interview does actually turn into a job offer. It’s like winning the lottery. Even though it doesn’t happen often or to many people, it happens often enough that it inspires unrealistic hopes and expectations, not to mention the kind of clueless and boorish behavior described by the OP.

    I echo the comments of the others here who say to make it very clear that you are not in a position to hire.

    Reply
  38. Greg

    I agree with pretty much all of Alison’s advice, but I would offer the OP a general caveat: The reason you’re willing to do informationals in the first place is because you have a genuine desire to help other people, and that’s laudatory. Don’t let the bad networkers turn you into a cynic who assumes the worst of everyone who reaches out to you. More specifically, when you reach the point where you’re asking people to jump through multiple hoops before you’ll deign to talk to them, and where you’re presuming ill intentions until they prove otherwise, it’s fair to ask why you’re even bothering responding to them in the first place.

    To be clear, I’m not saying that asking them to send you questions in advance is automatically over the Cynic Line. I actually think that’s reasonable, and besides, everyone has to determine for themselves what’s reasonable and what’s not. (And it’s never wrong to state your own interests: “I’m sorry, but I only have time to do X” is a perfectly reasonable response, and anyone who doesn’t take it that way is someone you can write off immediately.) What I would say is that if you’re doing this to be altruistic, you owe people the benefit of the doubt. And put yourself in their shoes and think about how you’d feel if someone sent you whatever you typically send to informational requests.

    Along those same lines, while I think it’s great to give people general feedback about their approach, I would save the harsher feedback (“you’re doing this networking thing all wrong”) for when you actually meet them in person, or at least talk on the phone. Getting lectured by a stranger over email is never likely to go over well, which means your advice will fall on deaf ears. And besides, if they’re not worth meeting with, they’re not really worth giving advice to, either.

    Reply
    1. Greg

      Reading this over, I should clarify that my post was meant as a warning rather than a condemnation. I was saying, “Make sure you don’t become jaded and arrogant,” not that the OP has already become that (although a couple of commenters here do seem to have already leaped across the Cynic Line). In fact, I think she comes across as someone genuinely torn between her desire to help people and the fact that a number of them haven’t been respectful of her efforts. That sucks, and I’m really sorry that people have been wasting your time. I just hope those bad apples don’t make you forget that there are plenty of people who will be respectful and whom you will feel really good helping out. And I hope you get nothing but the latter going forward.

      Reply
  39. Jill

    I think, considering that most of the people asking for these conversations recent grads, they’re still in “student” mode, where every adult around them is a teacher or a professor or some other support staff person – whose job it is to nurture and guide said student. A lot of people at this stage of life don’t realize that once they enter the adult world, not every other adult will care about their success or well-being. So when they find someone (like the OP) that does, they need to be a little more gracious and a lot less presumptuous.

    That’s going to require the OP to be direct and firm in his/her guidance. It’s similar to working with interns who might not have realized that the work environment is quite different from the classroom environment.

    Reply
  40. Info Overload

    I don’t know what to do here, as a job seeker. I want to stay in my same industry. I don’t need information about the industry or its pathways; what I need is a salary and benefits. I have no reason to do an informational interview. I don’t like meeting new people.

    On the other hand, apparently the real way to ever get any job is to network. Most people get jobs through their networks, they say. But don’t ask your interviewees for jobs. What do I do instead? The only reason I would ever network is to get a job! I’ve got enough friends and enough information. What I don’t have is enough jobs.

    Do I do informational interviews, or not?

    Reply
    1. Greg

      I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying, “I’m looking to learn more about this company, and figure out the best way to get in the door here.” Granted, that works better if it’s a large company rather than a five-person non-profit, where that request might sound weird. And you should absolutely know before you reach out whether the company is hiring, and more importantly, if the person you’re reaching out to is the hiring manager. If so, you shouldn’t bother with the informational request, just apply directly to them. (It also may be better to network at a slightly lower level, so that you’re more likely to get referrals.)

      Think of it this way: It’s easier to network about jobs in general rather than specific opportunities. In fact, connecting beforehand makes it easier to reach out to the person when you do see a posting, since you already have a relationship. And that is what you’re doing: building relationships. (Which, BTW, the person on the other end should also be interested in doing. Any halfway decent manager should always want to meet with people in their industry to identify potential future hires).

      As Alison says, be honest about your intentions. Will some people be less likely to help you in those cases? Possibly, so in those cases just move on.

      Also, if you already work in the industry, don’t discount the value you may bring to them. Even if they’re more senior, they may be interested in hearing the perspective of a younger person. Or maybe there’s a specific favor you can do for them. Don’t presume anything, but leave yourself open to the possibility (“Thanks so much for your help. Is there anything I can do for you?”)

      Good luck!

      Reply
  41. emma2

    I only graduated 2 years ago in a field that is very competitive and hard to break into (I also had to do contract work for a year before finally getting a salaried position). While the university coached us on networking etiquette, they also swore that networking and informational interviews was THE way to get an interview/job, and that applying online could only take you so far. They made it seem like the only way people every landed jobs in the field was through the back door or internal connections. That’s probably the attitude you are getting from these students.

    In the end of the day, I got a job by applying online. I still do informational interviews from time to time, but I do them purely for information – if I want to learn something from the person. I don’t expect someone to vouch for me just because I got them a coffee.

    Reply

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