what’s the deal with informational interviews?

A reader writes:

Would it be OK for me to contact a college alum who is in a senior-level position at a company I’m interested in working for AFTER I apply for a job at the company (e.g. to ask if s/he could personally consider my resume and/or if s/he knows of a job that would better fit my skills and interests)?

I read a post on your blog saying that some applicants ask for an “informational interview” with someone they know at the company and try to use that as kind of a “back-door” way of getting the job, and I heard that’s frowned upon by many employers in the U.S.  But at the same time, I keep hearing that job seekers need to leverage their alumni networks, but I don’t really see the difference between contacting an alum (say, via LinkedIn) to ask about working for the company vs. requesting an interview with an alum or other contact at the company to try to increase one’s chances of getting a job there.  Could you explain the difference (if any) to me and tell me what would be the right way to go about this process?

You’re confused because you’re confusing informational interviews with networking.

Informational interviews are used when you’re new to a field and seeking insight and information from someone who’s already established in that field. You do them when you’re looking for information that’s more nuanced than what you’d find online — stuff like which info out there is good and which is bad, the inside scoop on some of the big players, advice on career path, and so forth. You typically get informational interviews by approaching someone connected to you some way, even if it’s a few degrees of separation (your uncle’s former coworker’s boyfriend or whatever), but you can also sometimes get them from strangers, if you approach them the right way.

But what you’re talking about sounds more like networking — leveraging your connections to increase your chances of being considered for a particular job. And to answer your original question, yes, it’s totally fine to do that, and you should absolutely contact the alum who works at the company you’re interested in. Be up-front about the fact that you’ve applied for a job there and that you’re really interested in working there in some capacity, and say that you’d be grateful for their advice and the opportunity to connect in general, since you’re in the same field.

(And let me use this as an opportunity to remind people to be clear about whether you’re seeking an informational interview or a job, and if it’s the former to be clear on what you hope to get out of it.)

{ 3 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    Thank you so much for clarifying the difference for me! Actually, most of the jobs I’m applying to aren’t really related to my field per se, though I do try to make the connection in my cover letters, which often end up being rather long (I’m trying to shorten them though so it doesn’t deter hiring managers from reading them…). But I’m guessing that it’s still OK to network w/ alumni in companies that I’m applying to even though I’m not (yet) technically in their field?

    Again, thank you for the advice–this is really helpful! Any comments or tips from other readers would be greatly appreciated!

  2. SC*

    I actually have a similar question. I recently scheduled an informational interview with a fairly high-up person at a highly regarded organization in my field. It was difficult to find a time to schedule the interview because she is extremely busy (it actually took months, and it will be by phone), but I think it helped that we know a number of people in common and have met two or three times (very briefly). Several weeks ago, the organization posted a job opening, and she is listed as the main contact for applying to the job through.

    My informational interview is not for another several weeks, and I am afraid that if I wait to apply, they will already be done with the hiring process. Should I apply? Maybe send her a note saying that I am applying but promise to keep the conversation in our phone call strictly “informational”?

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