informational interviews

Public service announcement: “Informational interview” is not code for “sneaky way to get a job interview.”

If you ask me for an informational interview and I tell you that my schedule is crammed right now but I’d be happy to answer any questions by email (since I can do that when I find 10 spare minutes at 11 p.m.), the correct response is to thank me and email over your questions. It is not to say nothing and disappear.

If you ask me for an informational interview and I agree to meet with you, you are not supposed to use that time to try to get a job with me. If you would like me to hire you, lying about your reason for meeting with me is not a good start.

If you ask me for an informational interview and I agree to meet with you, you are not supposed to look at me blankly and wait for me to lead the conversation. You are supposed to come prepared with questions about the industry or whatever it is that inspired you to ask for my time in the first place.

Oh, and you’re also supposed to arrive on time. And if we meet over coffee, you’re expected to offer to pay. I will end up paying, but I expect you to try to, since you asked me to do you this favor. And you’re supposed to send a thank-you afterwards.

Please abide by the above, or I am going to stop doing informational interviews entirely.

{ 9 comments… read them below }

  1. Wally Bock*

    I think there is a seminar someplace where people are taught to ask for an informational interview or offer to buy you lunch to pick your brain. These things seem to come in waves.

    No one has asked me for an informational interview because I don’t hire people. But I do get the “I want to do what you do, can I buy you lunch and pick your brain” requests. My response is always the same. “I don’t take time off for lunch. What did you want to ask me?” In thirty years in business I can only remember two people who had questions ready. The rest slink off into the night and are never heard from again.

  2. Fernleafontour*

    Hi there,

    I’m currently living in North America and applying for a new job… however, I’m originally from the Southern Hemisphere, so the concept of an informational interview is quite foreign to me.

    Are you able to shed any light on how this practice developed and what it’s exact purpose is at all?

  3. Rowan Manahan*

    Amen to all of your points and amen again!

    What astounds me is not the bad manners displayed by the majority of people I meet for interviews (I reckon the old courtesies are well nigh extinct now) but rather the missed opportunities.

    Most people who meet me for an II are so woefully unprepared that we end up discussing the equivalent of the three-times tables.

    My over-riding piece of advice to anyone using this tactic (and I think it’s a great one) is to LEARN THE BASICS! An II should build upon a body of desk-based research and enable you to fill in the blanks in that research, it should never be your first port of call.

  4. Ask a Manager*

    Wally: Yes! Me too. It makes it pretty clear that they’re not looking for info or insight but rather to form a connection that they hope will end up being useful.

    Fernleafontour: Informational interviews are supposed to be for people new to a field or thinking about changing into a field. The idea is that they approach someone established in the field and ask questions about what it’s like, sort of to get the insider point of view.

    Rowan: Yes, that’s a great point. If someone is taking the time to sit down with you, ask the stuff you can’t learn from other sources. Grrr….

  5. J.T.*


    As a career coach, I’m actually a big fan of IIs – to the point that I roleplay with clients in how to do them pretty regularly. I hate that you had some ill-prepared person frustrate you, but I have to ask: Any chance it was someone from the younger generation? Sadly, a lot of recent grads have been ill-schooled in the way to conduct an effective II – and it frustrates me too because they unknowingly ruin great opportunities with their mistakes.

  6. Ask a Manager*

    J.T.: Oh yes, they’ve all been young-ish, recent grads mostly. I wish I could say it was just one, but it’s happened over and over. I’m trying to figure out a way to screen them in the future before agreeing to meet.

  7. Career Encourager*

    AAM – Great post! You do a great job of encapsulating all the things NOT to do in an II. I advise folks that Informational interviewing is one of the best practices to lead to a great career – assuming you are interviewING (progressive, ongoing activity as a way of being) vs hoping for a single interview to land you a job. I agree with Wally too – be prepared with questions right out of the gate!! More here:

  8. Mark Cummuta*

    Great post! I’ve linked to this in my own executive job search blog on CIO Magazine’s site.

    Informational interviews are not just for college kids anymore. They are a great tool for anyone doing their proper due diligence on a potential employer to learn about that firm’s culture, hierarchy and any number of critical decision points that are generally not readily available.

    Nice work!

    Mark Cummuta

  9. Anonymous*

    Too bad you have to point out those points that should be common sense and common courtesy for anyone requesting an informational interview.

    I would ask you not to be too rigid on one point, though: the coffee. If I asked you for an informational interview and you invested your time that way, then being on time, being prepared, sending a thank you, and buying the coffee are the least I can do to express my appreciation.

Comments are closed.