Four Mistakes to Avoid When Requesting an Informational Interview

By Friday, November 2, 2012 7 Permalink 0

To: rjones@dreamjob.com
Date: Mon October 1, 2012 9:45AM
Subject: Informational Interview Request
From: Aaron Levington

Hi Rich,

I found your info on the company’s website and wanted to reach out because I’m very interested in working for your company. I left you a couple voicemails (past two Mondays) and figured it’d be a good idea to reach out via email as well. I’ve attached my resume for your review and would love to set up some time to chat when you have a moment. Just as background, I have 4 years of industry experience and know Mark and Amy in Accounting. Looking forward to hearing back.

Aaron

I get a lot (a lot) of messages like this. I love seeing so many job seekers proactively creating opportunities for themselves. I don’t love the volume of informational interview requests, and the fact that so many go about it the wrong way. A few years ago, job seekers weren’t aggressively pursuing informational interviews as an integral part of their career search. Today, everybody’s doing whatever’s in their power to make the magic happen. Unfortunately for HR folks and hiring managers, that means an influx of calls and emails like above.

So what exactly is an informational interview?

An informational interview is a meeting where you sit down with someone in the field you’d like to work — maybe even at a particular company. The purpose of the conversation is to learn more about how they got into the field, how best to position yourself to succeed, and what organizations may be worth looking into as you go about your search. If done correctly, this person becomes a contact that you can periodically reach out to. They won’t mind because you’ve built a relationship and proven you won’t take their time for granted. They may even connect you to other people in the field who may be able to help.

So what isn’t an informational interview?

An informational interview isn’t an opportunity to pitch yourself for a job at the company. Unfortunately, that’s what many job seekers are using them for today. How do I know? It’s all in the initial email details — the above one being a great example.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not an informational interview snob. But like anybody that works in a fast-paced environment, I’m pretty busy — particularly around this time of the year. Annual performance reviews are coming up. Compensation season is upon us (HR Professionals). The business units we support are getting their budgets in order, which includes forecasting hiring needs for the next year. These activities are on top of the daily transactional and strategic items we’re tasked with handling. With that said, any HR professional that spends more time doing informational interviews than their core responsibilities isn’t a good HR professional…unless he or she was hired to do informational interviews. And because we’re busy, we need to be diligent about how we spend our time.

With our most valuable resource limited, do you think we wanna spend it speaking to someone we don’t know who’s trying to pitch him or herself for a position that doesn’t exist? Do you think we’d like to spend an hour talking to someone trying to circumvent the application process for a current opening? Most likely not. This is why the cheery email at the beginning of this post fails. The instinctive response:

I don’t have time for this!

I’m here to provide some tough love on this topic. Don’t worry. I’ll follow it up with something much more cushy, but related. Let’s get into it!

Four Reasons the Email Above Fails

1. I didn’t ask you for your resume.

How do you feel about telemarketers? Street solicitors trying to make you read pamphlets or listen to their pitch? Someone that sparks up a conversation when you clearly know they have ulterior motives? That’s what it feels like when someone sends me their resume unsolicited and asks for my time.

Why are you blindly sending me this? I don’t know you. Do you know how many of these damn things I have to read per day? I’ll come back to this later.

(I usually don’t.)

Rich’s Rule: Never send your resume in the initial communication. He or she will ask you for it once they decide whether or not they’re interested in speaking. Oh, and it’ll make you seem less pitchy.

2. I got both your voice messages and your email. Now you’re being annoying. 

If you were working with outside consultants on an assortment of projects, reaching out to candidates in the interview process for current openings, following up with people for your supervisor, and bouncing from conference call to conference call, how highly would you prioritize calling back the person requesting an informational interview?

How would you feel when you read an email from the same person pointing out that you hadn’t replied to their previous voicemails? Don’t they know you have work to do?!

Rich’s Rule: Don’t call or email regarding informational interview requests on Mondays. Mondays are the beginning of the week and we’re just getting back into work mode. Additionally, the chances of getting a response are much higher via email. It’s just counterintuitive and inefficient to call you back to say we’re available or not available. That’s like calling back a salesperson knowing they’re gonna try to keep you on the phone. Teeth shall be pullethed.

Go with email first. And if you absolutely must call, leave one voicemail. Otherwise, an initial email and a follow up email at least a week later will suffice. Besides, it’s an informational interview. What’s the rush? (I’ll talk more about this in a future post.)

3. You’re name-dropping..like an Anti-Bawse. That trick may have gotten you into the club, but it won’t get you a meeting.

Why didn’t you have one of the names you dropped make the introduction? Is the fact you know that name supposed to make me show you the meaning of haste? Eat rocks.

Rich’s Rule: If you know somebody that knows somebody, have them make the introduction. Better yet, why aren’t you meeting with them? And if you must use the name, it’s helpful to tell me who told you to reach out. I may check with them first (if you don’t cc them), but that’s still a step in the right direction.

4. You’re clearly jockeying for a position. 

Remember the definition of an informational interview? It’s clear you’re trying to maneuver your way into the organization. That’s not an informational interview. It’s a reverse job interview. You pitch and I just listen. I don’t have time for that!

Rich’s Rule: Don’t request an informational interview when you’re really scheming for a job. We can smell it. Use it as an opportunity to learn what you need to do to better position yourself in general as a job seeker.

So you’re probably wondering what’s the best way to request an informational interview? What should you actually say in your email? I’ll be talking about that in my next post. There are some key differences in the approach that I think you’ll find useful. Stay tuned!

Rich 

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  • http://twitter.com/sylquesaid fixedwater

    Very helpful

  • Roz Anon

    Thanks for the information. The article is well written and helpful. I have been at the same job for the past six years and am exploring other options. Browsing through LinkedIn, I see profiles of 2nd and 3rd degree connections who have positions I would like to learn more about. However, in some cases, I have lost touch with our shared connection. Is it bad etiquette to contact that connection for the sole purpose of an introduction?

    • Rich

      Sorry for the delay in my reply. Just seeing this message. I say go for it if you haven’t already. It’s impossible to keep in contact with all your contacts. Most folks understand that. If you previously had a good relationship with the person, the likelihood of them helping is higher than if you blindly added them and never had any contact at all.

  • Will

    This post did a good job of showing me how much of a self righteous prick you are. Granted, informational interviews might not be the best way for a real interview. They may even annoy you! But you’re just a dick for ripping everyone. When you’re at the bottom again looking for interviews I hope someone shows you this same type of treatment. Dick.

    • Rich

      Your response to this post is indicative of why you’re not getting interviews. Good luck buddy. May your keyboard in that Temple computer lab live strong.

  • KFWA

    helpful. I am trying for informational/guidance short phone conversations. Hopefully the HR/people in important roles would also be forthcoming! (Amin)

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  • MTC

    Thanks for this article. It was very helpful. I wonder if you could share some language for a follow up email after no response to a cold request for a informational interview. I am very sensitive to people’s time, but I know sometimes people just don’t see your email. All of your articles are great and always on point.