During Cecile Niang’s job search, she learned that some of the most important interviews are those where the job seeker is asking the questions — and initiated the meeting in the first place. Like many other job seekers looking for candid opinions about a company or industry that interests them, Niang asked a contact to take some time out of her busy schedule for an informational interview. Such meetings often lead to new contacts, and sometimes directly to new jobs. Niang, now an infrastructure specialist at the World Bank, heard about an opening at the bank that piqued her interest after several informational interviews there. After three months of formal interviewing, the job was hers.
And Niang does not think she is an anomaly. By meeting people through informational interviews, “you might be at the right place in the right moment — with the right experience, of course”, she said.
William Krents, an MBA student at the University of Maryland, has had similar success with informational interviewing. He set out to learn more about investment banking and did some productive networking in the process.
Krents will be interning this summer in Hong Kong with Credit Suisse, and he credits an informational interview as the key to getting his foot in the door. An informational interview Krents had months ago with a contact outside the investment banking firm led to “getting my résumé across the table to at least get the interview”, he said.
Could he have gotten the position without the informational interview' Krents doubts that. The firm does not recruit at the University, so he says the informational interview helped get him on the firm’s radar.
Krents said he went into that informational interview looking to make new contacts — not expecting to end up with a job. “Sometimes people aren’t in a position to give you a job, but they can give you information about the field,” he said.
Peter Brown, the managing director of the office of career management at Maryland’s business school, said his office sees the tool as one of the best ways to network because it shows initiative.
“If you can walk out with a contact that remembers you as a positive, energetic, enthusiastic person that is willing to do necessary legwork, that person will see you when they see an opening,” Brown said. He stresses that it is most important to build a relationship by keeping the conversation going, such as by sending a thank-you note immediately.
Niang emphasises that post-interview follow-up should also show that any advice given was not in vain. For example, if during an informational interview you get suggestions on how to revise your résumé, it is important to e-mail your updated résumé to the person who helped you, she said.
Randall Kempner, of the Council on Competitiveness in the District, gets so many requests for informational interviews that he comes prepared with his own paperwork — a list of organisations and resources that the job seeker might find handy.
Kempner works for a small non-profit organisation, so the informational interviews he agrees to do not often lead to job opportunities there. But he said that the request for a job is implied in the request for an informational interview.
“The person making the request and the person giving the interview knows the person is asking, ‘Can I have an interview'’ ” he said.
Not everyone sees informational interviews in this light.
Larry Corcoran, a manager of international finance at Air Products and Chemicals who also does recruiting for the firm’s finance team, said that when he agrees to such an interview, he removes his recruiting hat. Corcoran has been on both sides of informational interviews — he sought them out when he was an MBA student and now conducts them as a recruiter. He views requests for informational interviews as just that — requests for information. He says that if someone approached him for an informational interview and turned that into an attempt to get a job at his company, he would feel as if he had been misled.
Corcoran said job seekers “shouldn’t use informational interviews necessarily as a doorway into a company because that’s not the pretense for which the informational interview was set up”.
Brown, of the career office at Maryland’s business school, cautions students that the informational interview is not to be viewed as a job opportunity — it is best to take a networking approach. “There’s a tendency to think you’re going to end up with a job; that is not the objective. The objective is to make a connection.”