you don’t really want an informational interview

I’ve said this before, but apparently it’s time to say it again.

When I’m asked for an informational interview, I’ll generally explain that my workload usually prohibits that but that I’d be happy to answer the person’s questions by email.

The person is then never heard from again.

This tells me: (a) The person didn’t actually want an informational interview and was hoping to turn it into a job interview without my consent, and/or (b) the person wouldn’t have had any plan had I agreed to meet, and it would have wasted my time. Oh, and perhaps also (c): The person is randomly asking for people’s time without a real need or desire for it because they read somewhere that informational interviews will help them in their career, and thus isn’t very considerate.

If you’re asking for an informational interview, you need to have a plan before you make the request. And if once you get a response, you realize that you’re without a plan, you need to come up with one. Otherwise you end up making a pretty bad impression, and those are hard to overcome.

{ 27 comments… read them below }

  1. Ideas With A Kick*


    This is my first time on your blog and it's nice to read about the informational interview.

    It's a tool a often recommend my clients, but some of them do seem to take it the wrong way and try to turn it into a job interview. This is why I suggest that they understand clearly if what they really want is an informational interview and why. The, just do that.


  2. jessified*

    Oh no, you guys! I had two informational interviews last month at the suggestion of my career coach, and they almost couldn't have gone better. I learned so much about two very different jobs. However, I was 1) thoroughly prepared and 2) not treating them like a job interview. Neither was over e-mail, but I was prepared for that situation, too.

    I'm about seven years out of college and had never heard of an informational interview before now. What I could have done with this knowledge back in school! It's disappointing to hear your bad experiences and to hear that people are wasting this opportunity.

  3. Aswin Kini*

    Nice Article AAM, but, here, in India, we have never even heard of informational interviews.

    Infact, here, most of the companies outsource their recruitment to Consultancies. Sometimes, prospective employees end interacting only with the consultancies and get to meet the actual Company HR only when they get the offer letter.

    MNCs in India have the worse ever interview process. First, they outsource their recruitment to consultancies, which in turn end up calling numerous candidates and never even respond back.

  4. alex*

    The problem is the title "informational interview," when really, "meet to learn about your field" is more like it. I've been happy to meet with folks curious about journalism, and have met with others in the field who were kind enough to lend me their time and let me buy them a cup of coffee. It's networking. Pay it forward, ya know?

  5. Anonymous*

    I have the same policy regarding dating. If a guy asks me out, I tell him I'm very busy, so if he wants to get to know me, he should submit a list of questions via email. Invariably, he never does, which confirms my suspicion that he was really only after sex.

    Seriously, maybe the reason these people aren't following up with you is because they're trying to build relationships with actual human beings who are willing to help them in their careers, not pricks who ask them to, in essence, submit a form. I'm constantly advising people to do informationals, but one thing I always tell them is, if you sense that someone isn't interested in helping you, don't waste your time. Thank them politely and move on to someone else.

    I must say, I pity you. Someone who's so busy at his job that he doesn't have time for normal human interactions with others, someone whose outlook is so cynical that, when people ask him for career advice, he instantly assumes the worst about their motives rather than trying to help them, someone who thinks that relationship-building can be boiled down to a sterile list of questions, must live a pretty sad and unfulfilling life.

  6. Kerry*

    Is the purpose of informational interviews to build a personal relationship (like dating)? I didn't realize that. I thought it was to get information about the company/industry/field.

    If the goal is to build a personal relationship with the target individual, I'd agree that a list of email questions might not be the best start (although a lot of people are using computers to do this…that's pretty much how social media works).

  7. Ask a Manager*

    Wow, anonymous. Have you perhaps noticed that I've created an entire blog devoted to providing career advice?

    But yeah, during the day when I'm at work, I'm working. Unfortunately, there's no possible way that I could make time for the number of in-person meeting requests that I get each year. But that's a pretty nasty charge to level when I've put a huge amount of time into helping people, for free.

  8. Anonymous*

    Anon@4:52, I LOVE that you assume AAM is male and a "prick." Got some issues there? (Maybe related to your dating policy and its effects?)

    From your preoccupation with "relationship-building" and your insistence that AAM doesn't understand it, are we to assume that you're female?

    (See what I did there?)

  9. Kara*

    When you're talking to someone who runs a blog giving career advice in her spare time, how can you accuse of her of being someone who "when people ask him (her) for career advice, instantly assumes the worst about their motives rather than trying to help them"?????

  10. Anonymous*

    I've never been on an informational interview, and don't really understand their purpose. The sort of questions asked – "Tell me about a typical working day", How did you get your position?" – seem to have limited utility for job-seekers and must be boring to answer. What do people who give informational interviews actually get out of it?

  11. Anonymous*

    "I'm constantly advising people to do informationals, but one thing I always tell them is, if you sense that someone isn't interested in helping you, don't waste your time."

    Or theirs. AAM is kinder than me – I turn informational interviews down flat. It's not 1970 anymore, information is everywhere as is communication. The need for a face to face 'tell me about your job' went away decades ago.

    AAM is completely correct in feeling out a strangers intent before making a time commitment.

    Anon's been doling out stale advice, name calling and likely costing people future opportunities. But of course, they're not the prick, everyone that doesn't play by their rules is.

    Why do I think anon also tells folks to network only when they need something too? *sigh*

  12. Anonymous*

    Original Anonymous here.

    I find it ironic that people are jumping down my throat for making assumptions, considering that AAM's entire post was one long brag about the fact that she presumes anyone who contacts him has a hidden agenda.

    I will concede one point, though. I shouldn't have said you were a "prick" (or whatever other gendered pejorative you prefer) or that you had an unfulfilling life. I should have said that, having read your post, you come across that way. I don't know you from Adam (Eve?) so I may be completely wrong, and you may be a lovely person. But if that was the impression you gave me, maybe that's also the impression you're giving all those people who never follow up with you, and maybe that — rather than your ability to suss out their true motives — is the reason you never hear from them again.

    I hope your blog is helpful to others; judging from the comments, you seem to have at least a few loyal readers. Personally, I've found that career advice couched as, "Don't be like the idiots I have to deal with" is usually more about the author (and, by extension, the readers) feeling superior than it is about offering useful advice to others. And certainly, to the extent that any job seekers who read this post are discouraged or intimidated into not pursuing informationals, I would categorize it as distinctly unhelpful.

    I also think the attitude among both AAM and the commenters that finding a job isn't about personal relationships is completely bizarre. You don't get hired by information, you get hired by human beings. But if that's the way you approach networking, it suggests our worldviews are so far apart that it's probably not worth debating it further.

  13. raskal*

    Original Anon: Jobs and personal relationship are 2 very different things.

    Keeping business apart from personal relationships has it's advantages. The ability to take ideas and advice into consideration rather than personally, has it's perks too.

    But being able to inhale and expend new information in a less than critical manner allows an opportunity for both personal and professional growth.

    All of the above is just my lame hiring/front line, jack of all trades, manager opinions. I've been doing this 20+ years, and in that time I allowed 2 informational interviews. Regretted both.

    Many folks commenting hold positions that allow them to turn down informational interviews and from the looks of it, they turn them down often.

    You have an opportunity to use valuable (and free) feedback from those in the field or continue down the same path. I'd suggest re-thinking your strategy or maybe asking for ideas?

  14. alex*

    i gotta agree with Original Anon on the notion that much "career advice is couched as, 'Don't be like the idiots I have to deal with'." that, rather than the inefficacy of personal attacks or distinctions between networking and informational interviews, seems like a big underlying issue and a conversation worth having.

  15. Vince*

    "I have the same policy regarding dating. If a guy asks me out, I tell him I'm very busy, so if he wants to get to know me, he should submit a list of questions via email. Invariably, he never does, which confirms my suspicion that he was really only after sex."

    This was probably one of the most convoluted, rediculous and juvenile replies to an HR related blog post that I have read.

    You made my day Ms. Anonymous.

  16. Ask a Manager*

    Anonymous, you said earlier that you're constantly advising people to do informational interviews, which makes me think you might be getting defensive for that reason, because you're making this personal in a gratuitously nasty way.

    No one here said that finding a job has nothing to do with personal relationships. But we're not talking about networking here; we're talking about informational interviews, requests for which are usually made by recent grads who read that they should do this but have no idea how to make good use of the person's time. They're NOT networking; they don't really even seem to know how to network yet. I've given enough informational interviews in the past to know that this is almost always the case.

    I'm sorry you disagree, but perhaps you could learn how reasonable people disagree without personal attacks.

  17. jmkenrick*

    Some people have commented on the usefulness (or not) of these interviews. As someone who just graduated (this past May) and who has done informational interviews recently, I would say the following:

    1)AAM’s advice is spot on. If you want to do an informational interview, you should have a list of questions, otherwise the person you’re talking to is just going to give you standard information that a quick Google search would clear up. I’ve done a lot of interviewing over the years (mostly for my college major and senior thesis) and going to an interview unprepared essentially renders it useless time for both parties.
    2)I’ve done two informational interviews this past year (one in person, one over the phone) and I found them both very helpful. One Anon mentioned that they don’t understand the use of informational interviews now that you can find so much information online. I disagree. First of all, if you’re not familiar with a field it can be hard to sort out what information is good, and what is baseless (I know Kerry at Clue Wagon and AAM both harp about the bad advice they see online for job hunters — I think this is true for specific jobs as well.) I always ask what some good resources are, and both times I was directed to blogs/websites that I may have not found on my own, but which have been great resources. I can also ask questions that are very specific to me (of course, this requires that I already understand the basic nature of the job.)

    P.S. The career center at my school taught us that when we request informational interviews, we should always have a list of questions prepared, and that we should offer to do the interview by e-mail, and that we should NEVER ask for a job. In my case, only one informational interview was a “cold call” and I e-mailed the person my questions. He then responded with a phone call.

    @Anon: I don't understand how e-mailing a list of questions is at all akin to filling out a form.

  18. Candace*

    I have to say that I someone agree with anonymous but not to the extent of name calling and the other nonsense that's now being posted in response.

    I'm in the midst of a career change and would really like to get a couple of informational interviews. I have done plenty of research online but I would like to get an insiders perspective on a few things. I was recently responded to in the same way by a friend of my sister-in-law and it was extremely discouraging. I felt as though I was being told I have no time for you and I want as little communication with you as possible.

    I think a dialog is very important in communicating ideas and sometimes answers can only turn up more questions that typically work better when people are verbally communicating. Yet, if that person made me feel as though they didn't even want to hear from me in the first place can I send them another email, how about two or three more?

    The internet has done some great things but now we are all less connected because of it. People don't even want to communicate with each other anymore. We are all too busy giving full attention to our machines.

  19. Rosalita*

    I know this is an old thread, but it was a good one. I’m in charge of recruiting at a fairly well-known nonprofit, and I get requests for informational interviews all the time. While I want to help people who are interested in our work and in the sector, I can’t possibly give an informational interview to everyone who asks. When I do give an informational interview, it’s usually by phone. As mentioned above, I prefer when interviewees/job seekers have well-thought out questions. I will add that an informational interview is not just a chance to gain insight and information about a job, organization, or industry; it is also a chance for the interviewee/job seeker to make a good impression on the interviewer. My colleagues get requests for informational interviews too, and often those job seekers will apply to a job later. If my colleagues didn’t get a great impression from the informational interview, they will tell me. Conversely, if someone made a great impression during an informational conversation, I’ll hear that too, and it may make me more likely to invite that candidate for a formal interview.

  20. Alice*

    Interesting. I just came across this old post as well, and I’ve been pursuing and going on a lot of “informational interviews” lately. I have to admit, the title and the tone of the post rubbed me the wrong way, although I was not quite as offended as Anonymous. Maybe because I really love this site and have found AAM to be knowledgeable (and willing to share that knowledge) as well as straightforward and honest.

    But when I say I want an informational interview, I really do! However, I approach it in a different way– I never “cold-call”– I always ask for introductions through people who I already know. Maybe that is the reason so many people have been willing to talk to me, and share so much information with me. I have learned so much from the professionals I’ve talked with. I spend that time (however much time they are willing to give) asking them a few questions about their career path, their current job and company, and their advice for me as a professional just starting out in their field and the conversation flows organically there. Some people can only give me 20 minutes, and sometimes the conversations are so engaging I’ll talk with someone for 90 minutes. I never ask about jobs during this interview, or try to sell myself. My intention is to 1) learn 2) make a meaningful connection with the person. Just thought I’d put that perspective out there.

  21. Jez*

    Bumping an old thread, but I’m hoping someone can offer some advice: I know you shouldn’t ask for a job at an informational interview. But let’s imagine that you’re trying to switch industries, you’re at an informational interview with someone at a company, and that company has a couple of job openings you’re interested in. Can you ask that person which role they think you’d be more suited for? (This is assuming that the person you’re talking to isn’t the one who would actually hire for that job, but does work in a related role.)

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