my networking meetings aren’t leading to interviews

A reader writes:

I’ve been job-hunting for many, many months now, and recently a personal connection was able to introduce me to several high-level contacts in my desired industry. (I am three years post-college graduation and looking for a role in social justice/community organizing.) Through this contact I have spoken to senior/executive-director level people at several government and nonprofit agencies that I would love to work for.)

However, with the exception of one conversation where we directly discussed openings at their organization, these conversations have generally been networking/informational interviewing. My connections who referred me to these contacts always seem a little surprised that the conversations have not led directly to at least an interview, but I’ve been very wary of being too demanding of these senior-level people who have taken time to speak to someone as inexperienced as me. I’ve asked them in-depth questions about what choices they made re: grad school, how they selected their interest area, and what directions they think would be offering growth and opportunity in this time, but otherwise I haven’t asked if they can refer me to specific positions.

Am I doing something wrong in these conversations? Is there a tactful way to follow up with a request to know about any suitable openings in their organizations?

It’s the people who think these conversations should lead directly to interviews who are doing something wrong!

It’s a common misconception about networking, but it’s not how these meetings usually work. And if they really do expect that, they’re being pretty disingenuous when they reach out to their connections on your behalf … because it’s unlikely they’re saying “do you want to interview Tangerina Smith for a job?” They’re saying “Tangerina Smith is looking for work in your industry. Would you be willing to talk with her about the field and what YourOrg does?” And those contacts are then agreeing on the assumption that Tangerina Smith understands this will not be an interview but that she will still find the time valuable.

It’s actually not great for your contacts to ask people to spend their (probably valuable and scarce) time having an informational chat with you if what they’re really expecting is that these people will somehow find you a job. As someone who has been on the receiving end of way too many requests for informational meetings that the person hopes will become an interview, the indirectness is frustrating. When I know that what someone really wants is to be considered for a job, I can save us both time and just point them to our application process, rather than spending half an hour answering questions that they’re not that invested in hearing the answers to.

But none of that is your fault! You’re accepting the connections your contacts offer, and it sounds like you’re trying to be respectful of the connections’ time and ask them thoughtful questions. You don’t sound like you are treating these meetings as a promise of anything more. The contacts who are connecting you are the ones being unrealistic about how this works.

Anyway. At the end of these meetings, it’s absolutely fine to say something like, “‘I’m really interested in the work you’re doing! If you have any openings that you think might be the right match for me, or if you hear of any at other organizations, I’d love to know about them, even down the road.” You can also follow up on the meeting later by emailing your resume with a thank-you and a similar note. (Do check their job listings ahead of time, of course, so that you’re not asking something that you could have already answered by looking on their website.)

That’s normal to do and it’s not rude as long as you were actively engaged in the meeting itself. Sometimes someone asks for an informational interview, shows up totally unprepared with hardly any questions to ask, expects the person who granted the meeting to do all the work of guiding the conversation, doesn’t seem terribly interested in the info they’re getting, and then follows up by asking about job openings. That reads as “I wasted your time so I could get an in to ask you about job leads.” Don’t do that.

But assuming you’re prepared, engaged, and genuinely interested, the fact that these meetings aren’t turning into interviews or job leads doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. It means the people you’re meeting with are taking your mutual contacts at their word that you’re looking for general advice and information, and that’s normal.

My one caveat: Do you want general advice and information? Are you finding these meetings useful? It’s always good to make contacts in the field you want to work in, especially with senior-level people, and so there’s inherent value just from that. But if you’re not really that interested in what you’re learning from the conversations and you’d rather just talk about applying for work with them (or job leads in the field generally), please be up-front when you first connect — as in, “Would you have time to talk with me about potential openings at YourOrg or in the broader field for someone with my background and how I can best position myself for roles like X and Y?” Doing that means you’ll have fewer of these meetings (because some people will just tell you to go through their normal application process), but the people who do meet with you will be clearer on what you’re looking for and how they can help, and it’s a more respectful approach to people’s time.

But if you’re finding the more general meetings useful, carry on!

{ 83 comments… read them below }

  1. Weekend Please*

    One question you may consider adding to the list is something along the lines of “Eventually, my goal is to get a job doing X. What type of entry level positions would you suggest I apply for? I have been focusing on Y and would like to know if there are other types of roles I should be looking at.” Asking about their personal career trajectory is not always super useful since often things have changed since then. I found asking about what types of jobs they thought I should apply for was much more helpful.

    1. Zephy*

      > Asking about their personal career trajectory is not always super useful since often things have changed since then.

      This so much – especially if you’re talking to someone who’s been in the industry for decades. The path they took does not exist anymore. Heck, even someone with just 10 years under their belt probably can’t offer much of their own experience as a roadmap of sorts, if it’s a young industry. And there’s always an element of just plain luck or being in the right place at the right time. Sometimes there’s useful advice to be gleaned from that (knowing their mindset/what they were trying to do, the kinds of people/experiences/locations they were actively seeking out when it all fell into place for them), sometimes it’s literally falling bass-ackwards into success and just rolling with it, which is less useful to other people.

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        This – I got hired into a medical coding department at a big academic hospital fifteen years ago and learned on the job, got certified three years in. Today it’s pretty much impossible to get hired into a coding role for anything bigger than a solo doc practice without already having formal education (usually a minimum two year degree), certification and usually a couple of externships (even if your education program didn’t require them) under your belt. These days my new trainees are absolutely floored to hear that I don’t know what they teach in Intro to Coding 101 because I never took it.

      2. Talia*

        I agree, I had a manager who used to tell interns about her non-traditional route into our profession (a very low level entry job and lots of gumption leading to experience which removed the need for academic qualifications). Unfortunately, while people who qualified under that route were grandfathered in, it hasn’t been legally possible to qualify that way since the mid 1980s.

        Giving people the impression they can get the job in a similar way (which she did) was incredibly misleading.

      3. Lil Fidget*

        Ugh I remember so many of my mentors telling me excitedly how they started out studying Russian ballet, spent five years traveling around, did ten years of journalism and then got started midlevel in our extremely competitive industry. These days it seems like you have to have the exact niche advanced degree they want and three unpaid internships with a nearly identical organization just to get your foot in the door anywhere. I’m not sure what happened.

        1. sacados*

          Hah, very true. I didn’t even graduate *that* long ago, 2007, but I came at my career pretty sideways because a) I was in a country where my industry has a much smaller presence than it does in the US; and b) I joined the company in an adjacent role supporting the main business, and then was able to jump departments to move into the “sexier” part of the industry (to borrow the terminology from that letter the other day, lol).
          As a result, I was able to both learn on the job in a way that is much harder in most US companies — and because it was a smaller company/”many hats” type situation, I also advanced to my current level MUCH more quickly than is typical of someone in my role. I never had to spend years doing the kind of “pay your dues, other people would kill for this opportunity” type of entry-level work that most people here do.
          I’ve since transitioned back to the US and was able to make an essentially lateral move, and I find myself am battling a bit of imposter syndrome sometimes because it does feel like I kind of “cheated” my way up the ladder.

          1. Smithy*

            As someone who also started my career overseas – it really has made some of the more concrete entry level networking questions difficult from people looking to start in the US. In my sector and where I was, being a native English speaker made up for other relative inexperience. A year into my job, it had me having all sorts of experiences that just don’t typically happen that fast.

            That’s all to say – I’m super happen to connect and talk to anyone about my industry/sector – but I’d be hard pressed to recommend my personal journey to someone starting now.

      4. Koalafied*

        Totally – this is a cognitive fallacy called survivorship bias: looking at the characteristics of survivors(/successful people) and making the unwarranted logical leap that they survived/succeeded because of those characteristics, rather than independent of them or in spite of them.

        It’s named for a time when the US military’s Applied Mathematics Panel in WW2 was asked to weigh in on the best place to put more armor on planes – you can’t just cover the whole plane in heavy armor because it would get too heavy and slow/unwieldy, so you have to be choosy about the best place to put a small amount of armor. They examined the planes that had been out on bombing runs and saw they were riddled with bullet holes along the wings and tail gunner, so the commanders thought, wings and tail gunner – that’s the best place for the new armor, yeah, because that’s where all the gunfire seems to hit? The math geeks came back and said, exactly wrong: These planes you’re looking at are the ones that came back. That means they could take gunfire to those areas and still survive. Most likely, the planes you lost, the ones that never came back, they took gunfire in all the places the surviving planes didn’t – those are the areas where you need more armor, because taking gunfire to those areas brings the whole plane down. To really know how to get a bomber jet safely back home, it’s a lot more important to know what’s happening to the ones who don’t come home so you can prevent those errors than it is to know what’s happening to the ones that do come home, because you can’t really tell on the survivor end which of their choices improved their performance and which of their choices were bad ones where they were saved by luck.

      5. Anna Karenina*

        True. I have been here for 15 years, but the company was BRAND new when I started. I was employee number 60 and now there are about 500 of us. And things have really changed, including moving divisions, ways to move up in the company, who the brass are…etc.

  2. BPT*

    It kind of drives me crazy when people say that networking is how you get jobs today. It’s very industry-dependent of course, and some industries may rely more heavily on networking with people you don’t know, but at least in my field (policy/advocacy in DC), I have never gotten a job through networking. I’ve had plenty of informational meetings, networking meetings, but every job I’ve ever had I’ve gotten through applying to a job listed on a DC job board.

    I feel like most of the time, when you network, either the person you’re meeting with doesn’t have a job opening at their organization (and if they do you should be going through those channels), or if they know of a job, the most they can do is pass along your resume, but if they’ve never worked with you before, they can’t really say “I know this person would be great.” And in really competitive industries and environments, even someone recommending an applicant they’ve worked with before isn’t a shoe in.

    There are ways to use your “network.” But I’ve found that the most effective network to have is people you’ve worked with before, or people you could pull into work you’re doing now or in the future. It’s great to meet someone at a networking happy hour, but that probably isn’t going to lead to a job offer. But if they work on a specific area of health policy, I could reach out to them when I form a coalition on a related health policy to see if they’d like to be involved. Or I could ask them to speak on a panel, or talk about different ways our organizations could work together. To me, that’s the most effective way to build up a network. Which is less helpful for those just starting out, I realize, but it’s important once you start in a role, to try to make those connections that benefit both people.

    1. BPT*

      And reading my post I need to clarify: using your network can lead to jobs down the road. But I wouldn’t necessarily classify someone doing an informational interview as someone in your network you can rely on to help with that. It’s the people you meet and find ways to work with, that then become your network and can speak to your abilities.

      1. Filosofickle*

        That’s what I was going to say. In my experience there’s typically a 4-year lag between the time I meet someone and the time we can help each other with a job or project opportunity. It really does take that long! My work is fairly niche and high-level so probably longer than average. But basically you have to have the network in place long before you need it.

      2. Ama*

        I have an example of this — the last time I posted a job in my department, I sent it to a mailing list run by an association of nonprofits in a similar focus area to my own (it’s very common for members of the list to post open jobs). One of the stronger candidates ended up being a person who had moved into the for profit world but still had ties to people in the association who knew she wanted to move back into nonprofits, and they forwarded her the listing. So she definitely got word of the opportunity because of the network she had previously built, but it wasn’t the act of networking itself that led directly to the job.

        1. Koalafied*

          Yep, these relationships are called “weak ties” and they tend to be where most opportunities are found, which is why networking is a thing – but the mechanics of why it works out that way are misunderstood. Basically, the people who you’re close to probably don’t bring you a ton of new information. You already move in the same circles, read the same media – check the same job boards. There’s not likely anything they’re going to see that you wouldn’t also see because you’re so similarly situated to each other.

          Your weak ties are people who are in totally different social circles and consuming totally different media, so they see opportunities you wouldn’t come across in your own space. Networking is designed to nurture those weak ties by ensuring that you’re in at least semi-regular contact with people who are operating in totally different spaces than you are, who can find opportunities that are common in their own space but you wouldn’t be able to find in your own.

          And most of the time, it’s not so much that the person who brings you an opportunity is doing you a favor because of the relationship you cultivated – it’s that often you’re literally the only llama groomer that anyone at the camel stable knows, because they mostly hang out with other camel groomers, so when the stable acquires a llama, you suddenly pop into their mind as an option.

          So it’s not about “make friends with influential people in your industry and they may deign to reward you with opportunity.” It’s, “Make contacts with people in industry niches that don’t overlap with your own and make sure they know where your niche expertise is, so that when someone way over there needs someone with expertise outside of the usual fare, they think of you.”

      3. Anti anti-tattoo Carol*

        Yep. I work in a very small and insular industry- hard to get into (and hard to leave!). Networking doesn’t lead to immediate employment for a few reasons:

        1.) We can’t just create positions (and there seems to be a sense that that is a thing. Maybe it is in other industries? I do not know! But not in cultural heritage).

        2.) It’s competitive. There’s a lot of vocational awe for this industry, so we have lots of applicants.

        3.) There just aren’t a lot of jobs available these days.

        However, networking is still really important in my specific industry because, as Filosofickle mentions below, there’s a lag between meet and help times. And within that lag, it’s good to keep connected because we really do want to help. Cultural heritage sector loves Twitter- and I know people who have left the industry or who haven’t quite gotten in the door yet but are active on Twitter, attend conferences, etc- and we very much love and support and try to help them where we can. I know that it is a lot of labor! I am sorry! I do wish it was different.

        1. Glitsy Gus*

          Agreed. In my experience a personal network ends up helping more in the, “hey, if you ever see something you like on our website and apply, be sure to let me know! I’ll try to flag you up with the manager!” way rather than the “I will hire you in the moment or look to get you a job in my organization” way.

      4. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

        This. I got a job *that I applied for* because someone in my network who I had never worked for or with professionally, but knew my reputation and I had volunteered on a high profile event for our professional organization happened to be one of the hiring managers (which I didn’t know at the time I applied). I had reached out to various former colleagues/supervisors if they knew anyone on the hiring team and if 1. they thought I’d be a good fit; and 2. if so, would they be a reference for me. But I applied through official channels.

        This work does pay off – that role really launched my career. But you need to put in that work realizing it may not pay off for some time AND show you are doing it because you want to, not because of what it’ll get you professionally. Based on the field you’re trying to break into OP, it might be worthwhile to seek out some volunteer opportunities so people can see your work/enthusiasm/skills firsthand.

        1. Smithy*

          Absolutely this.

          I got my current job, because when I saw the posting on LinkedIn by the hiring manager – she was someone I had met at a few conferences, got along with, and then reached out to directly discuss the role. After we talked, I then formally applied and went through the process. So again, a case where the work paid off, but based on genuine networking as peers with no immediate payoff.

          That being said – the best networking I’ve ever for done for “I need a job now” is networking with colleagues at a really toxic workplace that everyone wanted to leave. People at my level, junior and senior – there was a deeper camaraderie in sharing openings and making connections as people left. While I don’t think this is a situation you can seek out, it did teach that focusing just on networking with more senior staff/future hiring manager wasn’t everything. Often peers or those more junior were actually seeing more of the job postings that I was most interested in.

    2. Cat Tree*

      The only way I have found networking to be useful in my field is when your network is people you have actually worked with in some capacity, so you know whether they are someone your want to recommend. Even then, it’s still usually pretty formal and something like “This position is opening up in my department. You were interested in this kind of work and I think you would be good at it, so you should apply to the posting.” Then you still go through the interview process, but with somewhat of an advantage if the network contact is on the interview panel because they are familiar with your work. But this type of networking really only helps if you’re not necessarily trying to find something new but are open to it. Otherwise you would already be aware of the posting from your normal searching.

    3. Converse Hightops*

      I am 60 years old and have never gotten a professional job by applying on a website or job board. It’s always been because I knew somebody who was hiring.

      1. Chilipepper*

        I’m 56 and have gotten just one job bc I knew someone who knew someone who was hiring. And they were desperate). Had they had time to do a proper search, they would not have hired me. All my other jobs have been through the refular process.

      2. Nesprin*

        Can you give a gist of your industry+ last time you job searched? Am fascinated by this, because it is very much not my experience.

    4. TCO*

      I work in nonprofit advocacy (not in DC) and I agree with everything you’ve said here. Having relationships with my colleagues is invaluable in so many ways. My network makes my work better and more effective (and also more fun). But I’ve never gotten a job through my network. My network has put in a good word to help me get an interview on occasion, and they’ve given me insight about various orgs/bosses. Those things are really helpful. But every job I’ve gotten was a job that was openly posted and I followed the application process.

      In my city, it really seems that most nonprofit jobs are openly advertised on our local job boards–I’ve done a lot of networking and job searching over the years and I don’t think I’ve ever been alerted to a “secret” job opening. The exception is that sometimes internal promotions aren’t posted for external candidates (sometimes they are, but sometimes an internal candidate is just moved into the new role).

      1. Spearmint*

        “I’ve done a lot of networking and job searching over the years and I don’t think I’ve ever been alerted to a “secret” job opening.”

        And yet it’s so common for job seeking advice (AAM excepted, obviously) to claim that most jobs are never posted online and are received through networking, if you’re only applying to jobs you’re doing it wrong, etc. I’ve had friends and family say similar things to me even though I know they themselves got their jobs by applying through an online posting or talking with a recruiter they met online. I wonder why this is still widely believed and given as advice when it’s clearly false.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Honestly, I think it’s repeated so much because “apply for jobs online with a strong resume and cover letter” is boring advice that’s hard to make money off of. A lot of people feel they need to come up with some kind of trickier hiring secret to sell to people. It has bugged me for years. (I used to rant about it regularly, including naming names, but as AAM became more established it started feeling ickier to name the people I considered bad players in that way. Although frankly there’s an argument for being *more* direct about it with a bigger platform, as calling it out can do more good. I don’t know.)

          1. Lavender Menace*

            I actually think it’s fine that you don’t call them out directly, because that emphasizes that the important part is not the source but the credibility of the content. If I’m reading a newer source or one I’m unfamiliar with and see that “secret,” now maybe I’m more likely to question the rest of the content regardless of where it’s posted. It’s teaching people how to identifying bogus advice, not just specific sites to avoid (when you can never list out all of them).

          2. Tired of Covid-and People*

            There’s a caveat to this though. Specialized positions with high movement between employers may successfully lead to getting hired by calling the department manager directly. I was successful doing this in a field that was chronically understaffed (think group health insurance underwriting). These may not be the sexiest most desirable jobs, but reaching out directly under these circumstances can pay off.

        2. Echo*

          I think I may have learned this here at AAM, but the common stat that “90% of jobs are never posted” is based on a real stat, which is that [some large percentage, maybe 90%] of EXECUTIVE searches are conducted through headhunters/executive search firms who approach candidates rather than posted job applications. Probably for the reasons Alison outlines, it’s been construed to mean something very different than it originally did.

          (I have only ever gotten jobs through public postings, just to add a data point. I did initially find out about my current job through networking, if a hobby-based internet meetup counts as networking, but the job certainly wasn’t secret!)

      2. Lavender Menace*

        We never have secret roles (because that would be silly! We need people to apply to them!), but what I do see happens often – much to my chagrin – is teams who know they are hiring and have most of their candidates lined up for interviews before or shortly after they post the ad. I work at a large corporation and posting a job ad is a Process, so it can take a few weeks from when you know you have approval for the role to when you have the posting. Of course, during that time, the team is already recruiting the people they have in their networks, doing informationals, reviewing resumes they already have in their pipeline…so often by the time the ad goes up, they’ve already got a solid list of people they want to phone interview.

        The reason it’s to my chagrin, though, is I work in an industry notorious for its lack of diversity, one that says they want to be better and has launched all kinds of initiatives and inquests to improve their diversity. I’m a woman of color, so one of the things I’ve brought up, repeatedly, is to slow down the process a bit to give disadvantaged/underrepresented candidates a chance to even FIND the ad first (and for you to find them!)

        1. allathian*

          Yes, this is definitely the downside of networking, it’s often hard to get your foot in the network as a member of a minority or otherwise disadvantaged group.

    5. Joielle*

      Agreed! I actually HAVE gotten a couple of jobs “through networking” but not in a direct way like I think the OP is imagining. It’s not like you get introduced to a person, you have a networking meeting, and they invite you for an interview.

      The way it’s worked for me is more like… you get introduced to a person because they work somewhere you think you might like to work in the future. You ask them about their job to get a feel for what the day to day is like and whether you would actually enjoy doing that kind of thing. Months later, there’s an opening in their agency and you apply, and they’re on the hiring committee and they remember that they met you, and that gives you a bit of an advantage because they know you were interested enough to reach out to them some time ago when there was no job on the table.

      Or… you meet someone through mutual friends, they work in an adjacent industry to yours, you like them as a person and keep in touch over the years, and at some point you happen to be looking for a new job around the same time they’re hiring. You mention to them that you’re looking to move on, and they mention you should apply to work with them. You have a bit of an advantage because you’re a friendly acquaintance of the hiring manager.

      In both of those situations, I got the job, but it was posted publicly and I applied through an established process. It wasn’t like some secret way to access jobs that nobody knows about. It was just… in a sea of dozens of similar applications, you might get a leg up if the hiring manager knows you to be a nice, friendly, reasonable, smart person who they would like to work with. It’s not complicated or mysterious, just being friendly.

      1. TortalHareBrain*

        This has been my experience as well. I applied to jobs that were publicly posted but became aware of the posting because someone sent it my way and/or stood out from the pile of resumes because someone on the hiring committee was familiar with my work. But I still went through the full process, including interviews, just as another candidate might.

        The same is true when I’ve hired. I may ask HR to pass along an application because I recognize the name and like their work, but it doesn’t allow us to circumvent our entire process.

    6. Esmeralda*

      That’s interesting. Nearly every job I’ve gotten has been through a connection. None of them were, I know you so here’s a job — I did have to go thru the whole application and hiring process. I guess it’s more accurate to say that the connections have gotten me an interview, or an extra plus in the initial review of applications. A couple of times it’s gotten me “you should apply for this job you may not know about”.

      I’ve headed a number of hiring committees. Connections have NOT gotten anyone an interview when I head a committee, but I keep the referral in mind IF it comes with details about why the applicant would be good. If I just get “Toby is fabulous!”, that doesn’t help Toby. But “Toby is fabulous, even though he has only X years of experience llama-grooming, he’s a natural at it and can do Y and Z” — now, that will help Toby’s application get a more in-depth look.

    7. meyer lemon*

      I think the term “networking” obscures the fact that the most effective kind of networking is often just doing a good job, being pleasant to work with and making contacts naturally through your work, rather than schmoozing and trying to talk your way into a nonexistent job.

      1. Smithy*

        I wonder if this goes back to Alison’s comment about the bad actors peddling bad advice – essentially that many people have a lot of insecurity about the work world, and coming from a place of vulnerability are eager for advice, and thus susceptible to bad advice.

        For many folks “be pleasant to work with and make contacts naturally through work” is perhaps a lot easier said than done – especially early in your career figuring out that line of becoming friends and networking. How many work happy hours/holiday parties does that mean? Do I need to schedule coffees or lunches? How do I do LinkedIn? How much “do you have weekend plans” chit chat needs to happen?

        Over time as you learn your industry, all of this feels more normal – but I certainly remember struggling to find those lines. And as a result, it did feel like there were people who had figured out networking and it was an area I didn’t get.

    8. Lavender Menace*

      I work in a relatively niche field where most jobs are gotten by networking. I don’t remember the last time my team hired someone who just applied online through the application system (probably me, actually, 5 years ago). But we have hired people we’ve met through random conversations at conferences or happy hours, because we actually go to (or host) those kinds of events to recruit candidates.

      But I still agree with you: the informational interview has got to be focused on actually getting information and building your network, because even in fields in which that is true, we might not have a job right then. We’ve hired students that we met several years before they finished their advanced degree.

    9. 'Tis Me*

      I would imagine that few companies in few industries have, built into their budget, growing headcount and taking on new staff because somebody might meet somebody nice at an informational meeting… There are probably times it happens but I suspect it’s more likely to occur at smaller, poorly run places where there isn’t an actual set budget or profit and costs forecasting etc…

  3. TCO*

    I’ll add that in OP’s desired field, organizations don’t usually have the money to just create a job when they meet someone who impresses them. Some larger corporations might be able to do that, but the non-profit field doesn’t usually have those kinds of resources. Most job openings in this field, in my experience working in it, are planned and are openly advertised.

    It’s possible that OP’s contacts, if they work in a different realm, think that OP will so impressive in an informational interview that someone will just make up a job to give them. That’s not likely to happen here. But those relationships, and the opportunity to learn more about the field and its players, can still be really valuable when jobs do open up.

    1. Genny*

      To add to that, if she’s looking at federal government jobs, they don’t have a whole lot of wiggle room to deviate from the standard hiring processes. The people she’s speaking to might be able to give her some tips on formatting her resume for USAJobs, but they won’t be able to interview her until she gets through the first couple stages of the qualifications vetting process.

      1. Grits McGee*

        Or even state or local government jobs (and potentially non-government organizations that get lots of government funding). Any time there’s taxpayer money at play, there’s usually a very specific hiring process.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      This. I work for a nonprofit and I at least heard about my job through a friend who worked in the field, but she told me about it because the person who had the job before I did was retiring and she thought I should apply ASAP. They didn’t create a new position, though–it was an existing position that they couldn’t afford not to fill.

  4. Cascadia*

    Yes to this – I also am curious – what are you learning in these informational interviews OP, and are you actually applying it to your job search? Maybe they’re telling you that most people start out volunteering, or you need to have a degree in X, or whatever – are you following through on the information you’re learning? I have a niche job that a lot of people think they want, and therefore get asked frequently to do informational interviews. I’m always happy to do them, but I frequently get the sense that they want a job when I simply don’t have that ability. I’m the only person at my organization that does what I do, and it took me 6 years of working for this org in different capacities to get there. I’m happy to share my story, or other tips I’ve picked up along the way, but I don’t have any jobs to give!

    1. Letter Writer*

      These interviews have actually been pretty helpful! Most of my questions have been about the benefits of different graduate degrees, along with what issue areas seem to be having growth in funding & opportunities in the coming years. Some of the responses I’ve received have been in line with what I already suspected from my own research, but it was helpful to get the insider perspective. I also got information on smaller organizations or networks that I wasn’t aware of who are doing interesting work, so that has been useful as a starting point for job hunting beyond just whatever is posted on the Idealist.

      1. Cascadia*

        That’s great! I’m glad you’re able to use that information to help guide your search. I’d say keep it up, but don’t expect any job to come through the network. Just apply, apply, apply! If there are things that these people recommend you do to strengthen your resume, then add those on too. Good luck!

  5. LadyByTheLake*

    I will also note that a primary benefit of networking is not so much so that they will alert you to a job or give you an interview (they are probably too senior for that in any event), but so that when one opens up (that you have been diligently monitoring for), you can apply for it, and let them know that you did. Something along the lines of “Thank you so much for taking the time to meet with me last March. I see that Your Org has an opening for Blah de Blah and I have applied.” Then, if they were impressed with you, they might contact the hiring manager, or if they made a specific offer of assistance, like a resume review or introduction, you make that request. I’ve rarely learned about a job through my network, but I’ve always landed the job by using my network.

  6. Delta Delta*

    I’m a lawyer and I occasionally get networking calls from law students. They take two forms: 1 – someone who legitimately wants to practice law in my geographic or practice area and wants to know what to expect; 2 – someone who disguises their question as #1 but really just wants me to give them a job.

    I’m more apt to remember #1 and if I hear of a job to pass along the information.

  7. Letter Writer*

    Letter Writer here – thanks for all your input! I suspected that this would be the case; based on everything I know of informational interviewing and network contacts, I figured these connections would be, at best, informative & helpful in laying the seeds for future opportunities as they may come up. I think I’ve become so demoralized with the constant application process that I was going a little crazy, but I’ll keep up with applying to jobs directly and leave these network connections for general career knowledge & advice. (Separately – if there are any people doing work in community organizing these days that know of a niche job board on which those positions are posted, please let me know! I’m aware many are volunteer positions but I would love to dive into a paid organizer position, however low the pay may be.)

      1. CC*

        GainPower is a great rec- Happy to see it here! It seems very niche to the field so I am suprised (happily) that you’re aware of it, Allison.

      2. Chilipepper*

        Super helpful Alison! I had an epiphany from your post about what to do if you have a job you dont like but are stuck there due to covid. You said to think about what you want and I realized what I want and its a job in an org focused on it’s mission (I have a non profit job but its focus is on everyone’s feelings and conflict avoidance – at the same time!)

        1. Snailing*

          >its focus is on everyone’s feelings and conflict avoidance – at the same time!

          Oof, I have been somewhere just like this and it ain’t fun! We’re here to work, people, not to be besties all the time!

    1. BeckaBeeBoo*

      Second I would also recommend seeing if your location has a local council of nonprofits/non profit chamber of commerce (my area does and they post a lot of community organizing jobs). You can also ask your local community foundation if there is a location specific job board (like Mac’s list in PNW). I’ve also been seeing more organizing jobs on

      1. Joielle*

        Yep, my state has a nonprofit jobs board that’s the go-to for this kind of thing. If you google “[state] nonprofit jobs” you’ll be able to find if your state has something similar.

    2. GlamorousNonprofiteer*

      Someone above mentioned that the nonprofit job path of the senior level staff with whom you are speaking is probably not available today and that may be true but as someone who is actually in the sector (25 years, holy wuh) and hires for the entry(ish) level roles you’re seeking, I would absolutely think about you if an opportunity popped up because you made an effort to connect etc. I will hire former interns of mine anytime I can because I know their work and they’re not easily scared off by my love of swearing and dogs.

      Right now, you’re looking for a job (ANY JOB), right? Having worked at the very grassroots, regional, state, national and now international level of the sector, it’s probably a bit easier to get hired with a medium/large nonprofit organization where you can learn all of the things. I’d scan who’s hiring via LinkedIn (bigger organizations will post jobs there) and your state’s nonprofit association job boards. I have VERY STRONG OPINIONS about AmeriCorps and VISTA (love the people who do these gigs, hate the pay structure concept) but that might be a route if all other lines of inquiry don’t work.

      Some nonprofiteers are all-in on a subject area (social justice, fair housing, women’s rights, environmental justice) and some of us are generalists. I’ve done the anti-poverty -> financial literacy -> energy efficiency -> LGBTQ advocacy -> senior services -> healthcare route. (I’m not really an expert in these areas but I’m a fast learner and I always work for organizations that align with my values.)

      Good luck!

  8. Forrest*

    (This is UK advice rather than US advice, so things may be different.) One thing you can do at the end of an informational interview — if it’s going well and you’ve built up a good rapport with the person you’re speaking to — is ask about opportunities to shadow someone at work or organise a short period of work experience. (Literally short— like, 1-2 days or equivalent for work shadowing, up to a week for work experience.) Again, that can give you more insight into the type of work that’s happening in this area and what they are looking for, which can really help with tailoring your resume and cover letters, plus expand the number of people who have met you and have an investment in you. Most of the time those won’t be people who can just create a job for you, but they may become people who will hear about jobs going and send you a link, see someone on LinkedIn saying “we’re hiring!” and tag you in, hear that XXX has just got funding for a new project and recommend that you email them etc.

    In my experience, this is how early-career networking works— it’s not usually so much people saying, “Debbie seems great, let’s make a job for her!” as it is expanding the number of people who’ll think, ooh, that’s the kind of thing that Debbie is looking for, I’ll just tag her in…

  9. jenny20*

    I once did an informational interview with a young person once who ended the meeting by asking me about next steps in the process. It really surprised me and it was such a turnoff that even though we WERE hiring at that point I didn’t consider him. You shouldn’t be able to sneak into the interview process through a back door, especially when the person is taking time to do something nice for the candidate.

  10. Anhaga*

    I’m another one who has never gotten a job directly through networking. What networking has helped with, though, is identifying the resources I need to find the kind of job I want, getting a better sense of the field, learning about the more minute differences between different roles, etc. I made my career switch by getting occasionally involved in local groups and meet-ups and by getting on the right Slack channels and Switchboards so that I was at least a familiar face & name for people in the community who were doing the hiring. That allowed me to be in the right place at the right time when an opportunity popped up. If I hadn’t been doing the professional socializing through the local online channels, I probably never would have known about the job I now have. If you can find geographically-specific sorts of groups for your line of work, it can be a huge help.

  11. hbc*

    The times where I got a job through my network were when 1) it was so entry level that “We’ve been in social situations and she seems generally competent and reliable” would be enough for at least an interview, or 2) it was based on knowledge of me in a work context. Otherwise? The only advantage is that I might find out about an opening I would have missed, but I still get to apply for it like any other candidate.

    Maybe your connections work in fields where there are tons of openings and they’d be thrilled to have someone pleasant with the correct degree show up in front of them. Or there’s a lot of nepotism-adjacent hiring?

    1. allathian*

      I got hired for a freelancing job because my dad had previously done it on the side of his research job and he knew I was looking into getting into this non-research field myself. I got enough experience doing that to qualify for a full-time job that required some experience. He sort of outsourced a minor part of his job to me so he could focus on his research. I don’t remember even doing a phone screen and they weren’t interviewing anyone else, it was just that my dad didn’t want to do this minor part of his job anymore and suggested me. Once I’d done that gig for a while, I could start applying for full-time jobs in the field. My boss was happy with my work and gave me a great reference, but he realized that a job that someone else could do on the side wasn’t enough for me in the longer term, although it was a great first step in my career. In any case, there was a reorganization and I don’t know for how long I could have continued in that job anyway, so it was all for the best. In non-pandemic times I go to conferences for professionals and students in my field, and I admit that when students ask me about my career path I can’t really help them much.

  12. MassMatt*

    In my industry networking and info interviews would be good for finding out what the actual job duties for different positions are, industry trends, what employers are looking for, help with resumes, etc. but very few employers will bypass their regular application process. Maybe there are exceptions for very small employers with informal organizations—I.e. the owner and 1-2 other people handle everything, but overall it’d be a mistake to expect an interview from an info meeting.

    People agreeing to do an info meeting generally do it as a favor, and are not going in with the mindset of looking to hire someone unless they have so much turnover they are constantly hiring, as with a lot of cold calling sales or MLM’s, for example.

  13. Washi*

    Semi-tangent: if you’re entry level and talking to someone senior, is there a way to ask what is reasonable salary-wise for someone at your level? I’m about to finish grad school and am a little lost on how my degree/new license should change salary expectations. How might one phrase that? Is “can you give me a sense of what the salary range for a new grad in X type of position would be?” ok?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes! Your wording is good. I might say, “Can you give me a sense of what kind of salary range I should expect for a position like X as a new grad?”

    2. Lunch Eating Mid Manager*

      Caveat that if it is a public sector position, the salaries are very likely online on the organization’s website, and you shouldn’t be asking a question that is public information.

      1. Chilipepper*

        Idk about that. In our non profit, the ranges are posted but every one starts at the bottom, no matter your experience. That and any other oddities about the salary range would be good to know.

        1. AnotherLibrarian*

          Yes, this. There is some nuance to how public salaries are listed. Our state and public uni jobs has a range of like 70,000 dollars, which is nuts. Basically everyone is hired in at the bottom, or within a few steps of the bottom, so if you came in and asked for mid-range, people would think you were super out of touch. Plus, no everyone knows how/that they can look up the ranges on the payroll website, so people sometimes don’t know that’s easily locatable information. And because my state has a huge range of cost of living adjustments, there’s sometimes additional calculations that get taken into account, all of which are described in jargon like “steps” and “qualifier percentages” and other terms which are not clear if you’re not familiar with the system.

      2. Lavender Menace*

        Personally, I tend not to mind when informational interviewers ask me something that’s public information. Sometimes folks who are from disadvantaged backgrounds, or different fields, don’t know that the information exists publicly. And also, I’ve looked for public sector jobs – some of them have GIANT ranges that don’t really tell you anything.

      3. ABK*

        The point of informational interviews is to get a sense of how to get information and what is reasonable! When one is exploring, you don’t always know that something is public or how good that information is and what nuances there might be. I once asked someone what salary I might expect coming out of an MBA degree when I was very first considering getting an MBA. Then I realized that programs publish graduate salaries and I could look it all up myself. Felt kinda silly, but I just hadn’t dug that deep into research yet.

        1. Forrest*

          I’ve worked with graduate destination salary data for ten years, and I think it’s still worth asking! It’s incredibly difficult information to collect, there’s a huge range depending on things like sector, pay structure and location, universities are heavily incentivised to collect and display it in the most beneficial light possible—it’s absolutely worth getting multiple answers from different sources and triangulating.

  14. From one SJW to another*

    I’m wondering if you’re doing any volunteering, organizing, or advocacy work with any organizations in the issue areas and communities you’re interested in. This is helpful in general because you can make more contacts and be on people’s radar when jobs do open up, but it’s probably even more vital if you do not come from the community or share a similar background with the people served/advocated on behalf of. You can have an awesome resume and kick ass in an informational interview, but community organizers roll deep and remember who shows up. Community organizing is about grassroots- so start from the bottom up!

    I spent years passionately toiling away on education equity issues in an urban district, but since I’m a white lady suburban-transplant I was repeatedly passed over for jobs in favor of people of color (and yes, I 100% know this was the case, twice I was in the final round and heard through reliable sources that they decided to go with the other candidate. I don’t blame them, in fact I think it was the right thing to do! I may be qualified skill-wise but lived experience is more important sometimes). I know I wouldn’t have even gotten an interview if I wasn’t a known quantity. If you are a person with lived experience, look up meetings or events, show up, and your people will find you! How to look up the meetings or events? Find some of those orgs you’re interested in on social media – they’ll post about them.

  15. RC Rascal*

    I gave gotten jobs through multiple avenues over the years.

    Twice through career centers. ( college & grad school).

    Twice through networking.

    Once through online application.

    Once through a mailing I targeted to the hiring manager.

    It’s important to note that one of the networking offers came as a result of a lead after I wasn’t hired. Manager liked me but didn’t hire me. Referred me to a colleague who was hiring in another area of the company. Received that offer & relocated for the role ( It was a very desirable organization).

    I have noticed that when I have been offered interviews as an outcome of networking meetings frequently there is an element of a square peg in a round hole. They like me, they have a need, I’m in front of them and they try to shoehorn me into something that’s not such a great fit.

  16. irritable vowel*

    In my previous career, I used to get asked for informational interviews that would turn into sales pitches (usually for services that I had no purchasing power for). So, I started making it extremely clear up front what I was up for talking about. If you want to learn more about my industry, fine – but don’t try to sell me something (or ask me for a job).

  17. Toss a Coin to Your Witcher*

    It should be absolutely possible for you to snag an entry level job in community organizing around social justice issues!

    One thing that you can get started on, that will put you above other candidates, is building a base! A candidate who is already organizing folks to show up at city council meetings or demonstrations or to go speak with legislatures is hard to beat.

    If you approach these networking conversations with “how to build my base”/”How did you build your base” type questions, you’ll get some great localized info, plus that’s the toughest part of organizing by far.

    Good luck!!!

  18. RJ*

    I’m 49 years and I got the five jobs that make up my career (27 years total) through networking and connections. My first job back in the early 90s, took 3 interviews and I got it through an employment agency through a friend’s recommendation. Even though I have a large, strong network, finding a new job through this pandemic has been a completely different experience. I’ve been referred to jobs by my network, been given excellent references and then the job…disappears. The budget for it is absorbed into another department. The position is completely eliminated for a year…or two. A senior position suddenly turns into a junior position. Everything and anything you can imagine, I’ve experienced it in the past year. And I won’t even start to elaborate on the amount of ghosting from companies and recruiters because it would take weeks.

  19. Person-on-this-planet*

    Ugh. I hate the “you have to network” advice. The people who say that never give you information on HOW to network (I’m not sure how, myself, to be honest). They just use “network” like it’s a buzzword with no clear meaning. And often, it becomes awful, useless work on top of work you already have to do. I’ve had several jobs and how did I get all of them? I applied. I sent in resumes and cover letters and I interviewed.

  20. secondtimer*

    So I totally got my last job through informational interviews. But, in my field, there are very few big firms that are willing to hire direct out of the college (even with my internship at a big firm, they overhired and nicely let me know they couldn’t hire me). I ended up doing almost 10 informational interviews. I always asked what skills they were looking for and if they could give me feedback on my portfolio. I also asked if they had anyone they think may be interested in my skill set. The job I ended up landing was a referral from my old boss. He agreed to meet for an informational interview and was impressed enough that he said if his company wasn’t interested, he would reach out to other people. It took several months (this was without a pandemic), but I landed my entry position. But I was always interviewing with people who had key roles in hiring. It really expanded my network and I meet some great people and I may work with them in the future.

Comments are closed.