Informational Interviews…should you ask for one?

External candidates contact me pretty frequently to ask for informational interviews. I understand why they do it and I try to help them understand why I can’t grant informational interviews. It could potentially turn into a full-time job for me.

Recruiters at large companies will get a high volume of applicants for each position. I can’t tell you how many exactly, but it’s a lot. My guess is that some positions get hundreds of applicants. Could I grant each interested person an informational interview? No. Would we grant some phone interviews once we have reviewed resumes and identified some people that potentially match our needs? Yep.

In my opinion, informational interviews don’t actually exist. No real interviews exist outside the funnel. This is why we don’t recruit by standing on street corners reading out our job descriptions. For large/well known/great employers, there’s no reason why they would make themselves available to any/every candidate, resume unseen. It’s just not smart. Once the resume has been shared (or some biographical data, something), and a recruiter expresses interest in the candidate’s background, then it’s an interview-interview. There’s some mutual interest.

All interviews should have an informational element to them. The interviews go both ways and candidates should ask lots of questions of the potential employer. 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.

Really, the only people that I think should ask for informational interviews are people that have a well-known, rare or exceptional skill set that speaks for itself. For example, if Jack Welch contacted me for an informational interview, I’d grant it because, well, he’s Jack Welch (my first question would be “are you crazy?” and then I’d tell him to go enjoy himself).

But most candidates are trying to use the informational interview to get noticed or to get a foot in the door. Unfortunately, in this age where people can apply to a position with a few mouse clicks, that can be a challenge. Unless you have a personal connection with the recruiter, you’ll likely have to make that first impression by resume; where the (purported) skills speak for themselves. I think that for the candidate, it’s also challenging when they ask the informational interview of the recruiter versus someone in the business. Recruiters are contacted by so many candidates that it would be very difficult to determine who to say no to and who to say yes to.

One thing that recruiters can and should do is network with candidates for future opportunities (as time allows). I think of this as something different than the informational interview, which implies that the person is looking for a new role right now. Nothing wrong with networking. There are a number of people that I stay in touch with and think of when new opportunities arise. These are people that I have somehow built professional relationships with. Current technology is so easy to use that much of this can be accomplished through LinkedIn or other means (like a CRM solution). Information can be exchanged without the recruiter having to accommodate a meeting wherein the candidate pitches their skills. I mean, that is what an informational interview ends up being more often than not. It’s kind of a “now that I got your attention, let me tell you why you should be interested in me”. The problem is that with significant workloads, the recruiter has to already be interested in you for you to get their attention with an interview.

Most recruiters hate telling people no but it’s something that they have to do in their jobs. In order to manage their work, they have to spend their time with the candidates that most closely match their current openings or with significant promise to match one of their future openings. It’s a challenge for the candidate to demonstrate to the recruiter that they are one of those, but that’s what it takes.

If you have asked for an informational interview, don’t feel bad. We don’t blame you for asking. We just can’t do it.


PS: I am sure that the last 5 people that have contacted me for informational interviews and happen to read this are going to think this is about them. It’s not.  : )

Comments (11)

  1. KW says:

    Very good topic. I don’t have a recruiter working for me nor my group, and I wonder if my company ever have one. What a shame!

    Since I don’t have a recruiter supporting me, all the resumes (internal and external) will hit me directly. Similarly, many folks will drop me emails asking for an informational interview. And as you pointed out, there is no way to provide this kind of interview because of the workload that I already have. So, I turned down most of the requests, except those that came from someone I know, or someone that my good friends/colleagues recommended me.

  2. HeatherLeigh says:

    KW – I think that unoficially, you can consider yourself a recruiter, then : )

  3. Wine-Oh says:

    I think informational interviews are confused with networking meetings. I have in a few cases made contact with higher ups at companies I was interested in working at and asked for an hour of their time to talk about their company and any advice they may have for someone. Not once did I say "do you have a job for me?" I have asked "would you happen to know in your network of contacts if someone is looking to fill a role with my background?’ Often times the meetings talk about my background, what I am looking to do and all that. Very useful. I have also followed up and asked for career advice when I am interviewing or get an offer.

    Informational interviews are really that first phone call from an HR person, looking for background info to pass along in the next step.

    Thats just my 2 cents. 🙂

  4. eR0CK says:

    Interesting that you point out LinkedIn.  I’ve got in contact with a few recruiters this way and I’ve had great success.  Mind you, I wasn’t asking for informative meetings, but over a few weeks I asked a few questions and the recruiter asked a few of me and that was it.  Now I have a contact if I ever choose to switch companies and I know a little bit more about each company too.

    On the flip side, it actually makes me nervous when companies try to schedule an "Informative Meeting" or as one recruiter called it a "Networking Dinner".  The firm in question was a private professional services firm, but the fact that a partner has enough free time on his/her hands to meet with me for dinner without me asking is odd.  Perhaps I had something they liked, but I always seem to think money talks and they were low-balling me right off the bat.  Maybe they were desperate for hires?  Who knows!

    Lastly, good topic, I agree with you 100%.  I’d imagine any Fortune 500 company doesn’t have the kind of time or resources to dedicate to "information sessions" unless it’s at a college campus.

  5. John D. Lewis says:

    Hi.  I’m a visually impaired job seeker who has struggled quite a bit in trying to secure a suitable, permanent clerical position for the past 3 years.  I have used every strategy disability/mainstream resource known to man, and still encounter obstacles such as soft discrimination and pure bad luck.  I have even tried the sometimes highly touted “informational interview” approach.  I’ve never gotten beyond the phone call, most managers stating, “I simply don’t have time for this sort of thing, okay.  Sir, if you just send your resume and we’ll keep it on file and we’ll call you if a future opening matches your qualifications”.  No matter how well-rehearsed my telephone dialogue, I was received quite negatively, making me feel pretty silly for even trying.  Thankfully, I only made a handful of these kinds of phone calls, (just to test the approach) — needless to say, I’ll never be doing anymore calling for “informational interviews”.  Thank you for reinforcing my suspicions about this issue with the truth!  Great article!

  6. HeatherLeigh says:

    Thanks John! Seriously though, nobody holds it against you that you tried. So don’t feel silly!

  7. Shanti Aaron says:

    I enjoyed your article. I found it insightful and it gave me a fresh perspective on the subject from the HR interviewer’s viewpoint. I agree with the post of Wine Oh that the term might be confused with Networking. Informational Interviews are touted by many authors of effective job searching approaches. Company blogs would be a good way to inform and present information about work culture and what they are looking for in their employees. I am new to online networking and blogging and I enjoy the content of this blog especially the ease with which one can comment.

  8. HeatherLeigh says:

    Shanti – great comments. I agree that often "infromational interviews" and networking meetings are confused. Still, in the case of the latter, frequently people are trying to network themselves into a job (they should have done the networking part before they needed the job) and don’t consider that the person’s probably doesn’t have the time available.

    If someone wants to network with a recruiter or hiring manager, especially a hiring manager, they should do it before they need to. Once they are actively looking for a position, the nature of the networking changes. If the connection had already been established, then all the person would need to do is call upon their previously made connection to inquire about the position.

    The thing with a lot of the e-mails I see about this kind of thing is they are offering to buy me lunch or coffee or something. THis makes me think that this is not a "networking" meeting; this person wants something from me and they feel that buying me something is the way to get it (it’s the quid pro quo). They don’t realize that if they were already in my network, it wouldn’t be necessary. All they would have to do is say "I’m in the market for a new position, can you help me?".

    A networking meeting should not take place with immediate expected outcomes. Usually some context makes them more comfortable (you meet at a conference, a person calls you with benchmarking questions. etc). When someone randomly contacts someone else to "network", without the context, it’s pretty awkward.

    Anyway, thanks for bringing that up Shanti.

  9. 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

  10. Oz says:

    Good post. I wish you could forward this post to all resume/career/cover letter book authors because 99% of them glorify informational interview requests as the best thing since sliced bread.

    Its all about databases and few clicks. If you want to make sure your resume comes out on recuriters search, fill your resume with keywords in the job description and make sure they are relevant.

    There are a lot of discussions on the net talking about how to reverse engineer query process.  

    My company receives about 600-700 applications per every week that a position is posted on job sites. I do not want to know how many Microsoft gets per job. Unfortunately, SQL has to take over at this point to find the fit since its not possible to read that many resumes.

  11. HeatherLeigh says:

    Oz – most of those advice books are really old school