INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEW, n., (1) a stupid job-hunting trick; (2) an embarrassing demonstration of ignorance by a job hunter; (3) a transparent waste of management time; (4) the preferred substitute for legitimate job-hunting assistance developed by career experts to distract their clients and justify their fees.

Heather Hamilton’s take on informational interviews provides a good perspective from employers on this job-hunting tactic. But the definition above is mine.

When you request an informational interview, tatoo LOSER on your forehead before you attend the meeting. That way the manager will know up front that you are not ready to talk business. You have not done your homework. If you’ve done your homework, you should have something to offer — not something to ask.

I put this entry in the Job Search category (rather than Interviewing) because so-called informational interviews have nothing to do with interviewing. Hamilton goes a step further and says, “informational interviews don’t actually exist.” She contends there’s no good reason for an employer to meet a person unless the individual can demonstrate skills or abilities of interest to the employer. And I agree. Informational interviews are an excuse to get into a manager’s office to make a sales pitch for a job. Where’s the supplicant’s investment and commitment to the manager, who is about to invest time in a stranger?

But, I think Hamilton creates a little confusion in her otherwise candid and astute discussion. First she suggests that, “For large/well known/great employers, there’s no reason why they would make themselves available to any/every candidate, resume unseen.” In other words, an employer needs to see your resume before meeting you.

Then, she says, “But the candidate has to get the attention of the recruiter by representing themselves as someone who could possibly fit a position at their company and/or has some highly sought after competitive skills.”

And herein lies a fine point about communication between the job hunter and the employer: HR mixes up the highly-valued personal contact with resumes.

Don’t confuse making good personal contacts with submitting resumes or asking for informational interviews. You have almost no control over what happens to your resume after you submit it. And you are unlikely to get an informational interview. Personal contacts, however, are entirely up to you — you can juice that channel in all kinds of ways through your circle of friends. (Keith Ferrazzi wrote a book about how it’s a lifelong challenge.)

An informational interview is like washing your hands with gloves on. It’s the heh-heh-aren’t-I-clever way to accomplish nothing while wasting someone else’s time. I don’t think any manager can justify that kind of time — unless we’re sitting around with a mutual friend having a cup o’ joe and the talk turns to work. The mutual friend lets you take the gloves off. The mutual friend is the key.

  1. Oooh, informational interviews! I’ve been waiting for someone to take this on. Thanks for the link…..

    Are your ears burning? Your name came up today over at Working Girl.

  2. When I first heard of the concept of informational interviews, my first reaction was, is this a joke? Even for a “legitimate” interview, who has the time? Not anyone I know.

  3. @Skeptic: The real joke is the thousands of “career advice books” that ride on the coattails of that kooky concept. The minute someone asks for an informational interview, a sign lights up on their forehead. First it flashes, “HAHA! I’m about to fool you into a job interview!” Then it flashes a big L.

    There are other ways to meet managers.

    I tell people there’s a corresponding term in regular social life: “Pick-up line.” As in, “Hey, Baby, wanna talk about going over to your place later?”

    Gimme a break.