Why the Informational Interview Should Be Your Favorite Job-Hunting Tactic

Oct 29, 2013 - Joe Matar

You're on the job search. You've done it, I've done it: your battle plan consists of applying to every job there ever was, is or will be in any field you have a remote interest in.

A successful day is it making it through applying to 70 jobs you found online, from construction work to being an extra in a movie to participating in lab experiments meant to measure your brain wave activity. Whatever gives you a job.

This tactic works, but only about five percent of the time. Unfortunately, you've heard enough stories of people getting hired this way to make you believe it can happen to you, too. And it can — but that's the worst part, because it becomes your primary job hunting tactic.

The alternative, "networking," is an evil, awkward, uncomfortable tactic that involves handing your business cards to every working professional you know, rudely begging for a job while wearing your only good shirt. But you can't do that. You don't have any business cards, your one good shirt is wrinkled and you don't know the first thing about approaching a professional to ask for a job.

It's time for a change

Stop applying for every job you can find online. It's time to start networking and give yourself a fighting chance at a full-time job you won't regret applying to after your third day.

Let's talk about informational interviews. An informational interview is a meeting between two people, one who’s a professional working in a certain field or industry and one who's looking to learn more about that industry and get their foot in the door.

Note: this is not a job interview. It's better in a lot of ways. (Click here to Tweet this thought.)

A successful informational interview will provide you with insider insight about the industry you're passionate about. Meeting up with a professional screenwriter will give you the opportunity to discover information you can't find anywhere else if you want to be a screenwriter.

Google can only go so far

To learn as much as you can from an informational interview, here are five questions to come prepared with:

  1. What is your day-to-day like? What does your average workday consist of?
  2. What advice would you give someone looking to get their foot in the door of the ________ industry? (Fill in the blank.)
  3. What are common entry-level jobs in the ______ industry?
  4. What are the next steps you'd recommend for someone like me?
  5. Do you know of any jobs available in the industry at the moment?

That last one is for the ballsy individuals (hint: they're probably going to get a job faster than others).

More importantly, an informational interview gives you a professional connection in an industry you're passionate about. If the interview goes well, make that person a professional connection who likes you.

This will mean they're a lot more likely to refer you to other working professionals in their industry, and they might even suggest your name when they hear about the multitude of jobs in their industry that never get posted online. Bingo.

How to set up an informational interview

"That's all fine and dandy,” you may say, “but how in the world am I supposed to set one up? I don't know anybody! If I did, I'd probably have a job right now or something."

You're right, you would. But that's OK.

Here's what you do. Go on LinkedIn to your college’s alumni database. (You don’t need a LinkedIn account, but you should get one if you want a full-time job.) Find someone who works in an industry you want to be a part of, and email them something like this:

Hello Mr. Super Professional,

My name is Anthony. I found you through SDSU's alumni database on LinkedIn. I saw that you've worked at ____, ____ and ____. Since I graduated in 2012, I've become very passionate about the _____ industry.

I'd love to get your expert opinion on some questions I have about the industry. Could I please take you out to coffee sometime for about 30 minutes and ask you some questions about the _____ industry?

They're probably going to say yes. Know why? Because people love talking about themselves, and everyone wants to help college graduates because they're the cute, fluffy puppies of society. We can’t help it.

Do this a lot. I'm your average college graduate, and I've done about six informational interviews in the past few months. I have another one on Tuesday. They're awesome. So far, I’ve received:

  • A job application for an incredible position not advertised anywhere.
  • A full-time mentor who wants to meet up every few weeks to help me out.
  • A ton of information about content writing and editing, an industry I’m passionate about.
  • Countless referrals to other professionals in the writing/editing industry .

The list goes on.

Sure, I apply to the jobs LinkedIn sends me and even to a Monster or Craigslist job or two, but informational interviews are taking me places.

You can jump on board, too. Stop applying for every job you've ever heard about and start getting ahead in your career. Informational interviews are the smart man's job hunting tactic.

You're smart, right? Anthony Moore discusses post-college awesomeness on his website, stuffgradslike.com, and on his Twitter. He’s not much different than you: roguishly attractive, dashingly sophisticated and a lover of fine eateries like Wendy’s and Domino’s.