How to Say It: Informational (gag!) Interviews

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Informational interviews — gag me with a spoon. They call it an informational “interview” because… it’s a veiled job interview. The challenge is how to get the information you need in the right setting. And an interview ain’t it.

In the October 13, 2009 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader questions advice she was given by a career counselor about informational interviews. Lucky she asked.

I know that I’m supposed to call the people I know in decision-making positions in my field to set up appointments for “informational interviews.” A career counselor I’m working with suggests that I should say, “I was wondering what unmet needs you have now or anticipate down the road.” But it just doesn’t sound natural or productive to me. I bet you have a better idea.

Gimme a break and fire your career counselor, who is telling you to go embarrass yourself by asking for a job with a wink and a nod. Imagine asking that exact same question in an attempt to get a date with someone… Urrrrgh.

Why is every interaction between a job hunter and an employer assumed to be some kind of interview? Why can’t we just have a little talk? You know — talk shop. Discuss business. Share information and insight. Everything doesn’t have to be a dad-blasted interview.

This means you have to shake loose from talking about “the job,” “a job,” “an opening,” “an unmet need,” (Jeeze, I wouldn’t touch that one even with a lawyer in tow…) or anything having to do with getting hired.

And that means talking to the manager in a different setting. What industry associations does she belong to? Where does she take professional development courses? Does she volunteer somewhere? Find out where you can run into her, then do it. Assuming you really want to learn something new, here’s How to Say It:

“Hi, nice to meet you. I know you work for ABC Company. I’ve always admired ABC’s stature in its field. Could I ask you something? What’s your opinion of this industry and where it’s going? What do you think are the hurdles and opportunities coming down the pike?”

This can easily turn into a talk about her company and even about her department. And that’s the beginning of your “informational” discussion, if that’s what you really want.

If what you really want is an excuse for a job interview, I can’t help you. Don’t mix up job hunting with a peer-to-peer discussion with someone in your field. It’s rude.

Am I wrong? What’s the best way to say it, and in what setting?

I think it’s legit (and smart) to learn all you can about an industry, a company and a job. But is the “informational interview” a legit way to do it? I don’t think so. (I discussed this topic in another post, Informational (heh-heh) Interviews over a year ago. But don’t look at that til you’ve posted your comments here!)

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Congress to Employers: You’re not proctologists

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I once applied for a job with a big-time, international consulting firm. I signed off on a background check that included letting them interview everyone back to my kindergarten teacher. I had to get a physical and pee in a cup. They did a credit check. Who knows what they found, because they didn’t hire me. (I have no idea what they found because they wouldn’t share it with me.)

That was lucky, because letting people I didn’t know intrude into areas of my life that were none of their business gnawed at me… and I decided not to accept an offer even if they made it. Go suck rocks. Who wants to turn their life over to goons? And besides, I wanted to know — but no one at the company would tell me — what does the CEO’s credit record look like? Why don’t employers publish their officers’ full records like Subway publishes calorie counts on all its sandwiches?

Why do companies want to know it all? To avoid hiring someone who might go postal some day? Nah, it’s to cover their asses. Personnel jockeys and lawyers apply every available “verification” process just because they can. Because who wants to make a decision and be held accountable for it if there’s one more source of data we can check…? Who wants to hire somebody who missed her last car payment and is struggling to find a job so she can make the next one?

What many people don’t realize is, you can say NO. You are under no obligation to micturate on demand, expose your kindergarten teacher to embarrassing questions, or to take a probe up your credit report or up your ass. You might not get the interview, but all the details of your life are not any employer’s business unless you choose to make them so. (If you consent, consider that what an employer finds may not even be accurate. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group says that about a third of credit reports contain serious errors.)

Many Ask The Headhunter readers tell me they say NO. I learned to say no after I looked at myself in the mirror following the investigation into my life many years ago. I was ashamed of myself. I gave up everything about myself to information goons.

On July 9, 2009 Congressman Steve Cohen of Tennessee introduced H.R.3149, a bill “to amend the Fair Credit Reporting Act to prohibit the use of consumer credit checks against prospective and current employees for the purposes of making adverse employment decisions.”

Cohen says, “At a time when people are struggling to find jobs, credit checks should not be used as a basis to deny employment to otherwise qualified candidates.” The bill has 36 co-sponsors and it is long overdue. It’s time to draw this line.

Nonetheless, the bill “makes exceptions to such prohibition for employment: (1) which requires a national security or Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) clearance; (2) with a state or local government agency which otherwise requires use of a consumer report; or (3) in a supervisory, managerial, professional, or executive position at a financial institution.

You should be aware of these exceptions because this is the best we’re likely to get. Much as I would like to put kindergarten teachers off limits.

Checking people out before you hire them is a smart thing to do. So talk to people that job candidates have worked with and ask smart questions. Check references. Do your diligence. But you’re not an information proctologist. There are places where your hands don’t belong because you don’t acquire rights to anyone’s privacy when you hire them. And it’s time Congress put that in writing.

Kudos to Rep. Steve Cohen. H.R. 3149 has been referred to the House Committee on Financial Services. I’m contacting my legislators and telling them to vote for the bill. I encourage you to do the same.

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Oh, no! Job-search scams!

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Looking for a big-time job-search scam? The big ones are not hard to find. Try this one, or this one, or this one.

But the best that Time magazine can muster is crooked cleaning services  and the “deposit this check and send us half” rouse? Job-search scams on the rise in the recession. Gimme a break. Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times are no better. They run the “human interest” tear-jerkers. “62 year old grandma taken for $1,000 by third-world scammer who needed to move $60 million out of the country.”

And you wonder why the big scams are fleecing millions of job hunters and HR departments of billions of dollars every year… Sorry, Suckers, “the news” doesn’t cover the $30/month that a few million of you spent for platinum job board memberships.

Anyone interested in a slightly used hand-screened $100k+ job? Or a few thousand of them? Pssst… Hey, Kid, we got ’em! Just fifty bucks!

The worst scams are committed in broad daylight run under our noses.

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NEW! Subscribe to comments feature!

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Ever post a comment to a discussion here on the blog, and wish you could be notified if someone responds to it so you can participate more fully in the dialogue?

Now you can do just that. At the bottom of every posting (right beneath the form where you post comments), there’s now an option to subscribe to comments. Check it off, and you’ll receive an e-mail when someone else posts to the thread you subscribed to (but you will not receive e-mail about your own new comments).

You can then easily manage which threads you’re subcribed to (from a link in the same place), and you can easily cancel all notifications. Works like a charm! (And if it doesn’t, I expect you to tell me!)

This blog gets such outstanding dialogue that I’m really glad to offer this new feature. Hope you enjoy it — I know I will enjoy the discussion here all the more!

(Note: This feature is different from the Feedburner Get Posts by E-mail feature that appears in the sidebar — that one notifies you only when I put up a new blog post.)

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Readers’ Forum: Am I digging my own grave?

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Jumpin’ Jehosophat! First there’s a job opportunity, then there is none. Then there’s a custom-made job… but to get it, this reader has to crawl down in the hole… From this week’s Readers’ Forum in the Ask The Headhunter Newsletter:

I came in second — didn’t get the job. But the company interviewed me again for a unique new position based on my unusual set of skills. They want to create a job for me, but prior to interviewing with the company president, I’ve been asked to write up the job description. I think this is genuine, but my research on the president indicates some issues. I’m worried he’ll use my job description to create the job and then make me compete for it with others. How can I structure the document to protect myself?

For the Forum: Is this job candidate digging her own grave, or planting the seeds of success? What should she do next?

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How to Say It: Don’t say it (yet)

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In this week’s Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter tries to deal with a roadblock that hasn’t even materialized. This is a roadblock that should not be tackled until a job offer is extended.

I have a potental roadblock in a job search. I have eldercare responsibilities that limit my workday to standard work hours (not more than 8 hours, weekdays and daytime only) and cannot travel. Do I disclose any of this to a potential employer, or do I wait until after I get the offer in hand and invoke FMLA and the Small Necessities Leave Act?

I think the best way to say it is not to say it — yet. Wait until after an offer is made. But don’t threaten. (If you want to invoke the law, go for it, but be ready to go to court.) “Thanks for your offer. I’m eager to come to work. I know I’m not required to do this, but I feel it’s proper to disclose that I care for my [mother, father, whoever] when I’m not at work. I am ready to work hard during a regular 40-hour work week, but after an 8-hour day I must attend to my eldercare responsibilities. I wanted to discuss this prior to accepting your offer. I will organize my work day to ensure I get the job done in 40 hours. Is that acceptable?”

How and when would you say it? I think an employer has a right to know you can’t work overtime. But I would wait until after the employer has made a commitment, so you can both try to work it out. Bring it up too soon, and you jeopardize an offer — and you’ll never know whether you were rejected because of this issue. Once the offer is made, the employer has more motivation to work it out with you.

What’s your take on this?

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Q&A on Midmorning, MN Public Radio: Oct 5 10am CT

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Please join me on Midmorning with Kerri Miller, Monday October 5, 10am Central Time, on Minnesota Public Radio.

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UPDATE: I’m glad to take overflow questions from the show here on the blog. Just post them in the comments section below… I’ll try to get to them all!

Here’s the audio from today’s Midmorning segment:



I referenced these articles during the segment today:

Put a Free Sample in Your Resume

Too Old to Rock & Roll

Information and statistics about job boards:

Job-board Journalism: Selling out the American Job Hunter (an oldie but goodie)

CareerBuilder is for Dopes

Job Board B.S. Abounds

Why do people pay to use job boards?

Your question might also be answered in one of the many other articles on the web site: Ask The Headhunter.
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This is live, call-in talk radio — bring your questions! MNPR streams live online.

Our topic? The Job Hunt! The insider’s edge, how to find a job, how to interview, how to get the job, and if you already have the job, how to keep it and advance in your career.

I’m told that a representative of Monster.com will be on the show, too…

(If your questions don’t make it on the air, please post them below and I’ll do my best to address them all after the show!)

Tune in here!

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There are resumes, and there are resumes

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It’s good to find a fresh voice online that gives you useful advice, slaps you around a little (we all need it sometimes), entertains you, and leaves you feeling like you just learned something most people don’t know.

Check out 2 Great New Ways to Get a Kick-Butt Resume by Mark Bartz. Mark writes resumes for a living, in a special niche: medical and pharmaceutical sales — period. Mark knows the good side of the resume biz, and he knows the dark side, too. (There are resumes, and there are resumes…) If you’re going to hire a resume writer, this is what you need to know. And you’ll have fun reading it on Mark’s blog, What The Heck Do I Do?

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Readers’ Forum: Old, talented and sidelined

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It’s the question on the lips of the ever-growing over-60 population. (Hey, you’re not over 60? Just wait a few minutes… because when you get to 60, it’s gonna feel like just a few minutes ago that you were younger.)

From the new Ask The Headhunter Newsletter Readers’ Forum:

I’m a 64-year-old (healthy and talented) TV director with two Emmys, one Peabody, and a dozen other awards. I love my job as an adjunct professor of television production and writing at a respected university, but at best it’s a part-time thing that brings more satisfaction than income. TV is staffed largely by young people who either perceive me as their father or ask why would someone like me be looking for work with someone like them. I’m afraid I’m not alone in my quandary: old enough to have a distinguished career, too old to be thought employable for any number of reasons. I have no intention of retiring. What would you do?

Forum: There are lots of articles on this topic in lots of publications. The Net is awash in advice for “old people” looking for jobs. But I’m not interested in the conventional tips for this reader. (Dye your hair. Act young. Leave dates off your resume. Learn the new lingo…) Can we do better than “the career experts” and their mushy apologies? We’d better, because soon it’s gonna be us kicking and screaming while they try to drag us to the sidelines…

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How to Say It: Why I left

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In the Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions category… the new Ask The Headhunter Newsletter includes this query from a reader about How to Say It:

This question is asked by almost every employer: Why did you leave your last job? Frankly, I’m tired of it, but it just keeps coming. It’s like they’re asking me whether I’m a good-for-nothing bum because I left a job. I’ve got nothing to hide — I left because my boss was a jerk and I got tired of being abused. What does that have to do with whether I can be a good worker? I’ve been totally honest with some and I’ve been clever with others. Nothing seems to feel right because I can never tell how they take my answer. How do I answer honestly without screwing myself out of a job?

This ranks right up there with, “What’s your greatest weakness?” (Answer: Uh, my last job?) There are tons of clever responses, if you can afford all the career books they’re stored in.

I’m not gonna touch this one because the best approach will be squeezed out of all the dialogue I expect it will stimulate… So let’s have at it.

How would you explain in an interview why you left a crummy boss?

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