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The Truth About Using Informational Interviews to Land a Job

informational interview

You’ve heard that informational interviews are the key to accessing the hidden job market.

But it’s time for us all to come to an agreement on something: The ‘Hidden Job Market’ doesn’t really exist. At least not in the way you think it does.

There’s no magical pool of jobs that only reveal themselves when the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars. There is no black market or international waters to visit and find them. And there are very few jobs that are not getting posted online these days. A common myth states that around 80% of jobs never get posted or advertised. But as far as the opportunities you see on job boards or a company’s website – that is a pretty good representation of the live pool of jobs currently open. Companies don’t often hide jobs from the public – they really do want applicants! Many companies even have policies to post every job for a certain period of time, even if they have a candidate in mind – which doesn’t mean the job is completely off the table if you can network in through the right people.

For the most part, the only time that a job is hidden is for a high level position. “Every once in a while there is a confidential search, where a company is intending to fire someone but they can not do that until they have the replacement ready to go. An example might be a CFO for a public company… which cannot have a one day gap for a CFO,” said Executive Coach, Laura Hill in a recent online class. In many cases, these searches are carried out by an external recruiter – and the candidate is only notified by round 3 or 4 of interviewing that they are interviewing for the CFO position, not a director or VP role.

So what is this hidden market that is only accessible by networking with company insiders? According to Hill, there is a more appropriate name for this method of finding employment: “Opportunistic Hires.” But let’s rewind.

What is an informational interview?

People often mistake an informational interview for a request for employment. An informational interview is a pre-arranged meeting between two parties to obtain – you guessed it – information. In the meeting, you (the job seeker) are seeking information about the company that the other is employed by, including: the company’s culture, challenges, and the industry as a whole.

What should you NOT do in an informational interview? Ask about hidden jobs, or ask for a job outright. When you reach out to someone for an informational interview, they’ll understand what it is you are after. You DO want to ask exploratory questions that provide a gateway for greater discussion – including how your skills and experiences might fit within the target company. This leads to the aforementioned opportunistic hires, which tend to occur in two ways:

  1. When it is known that a position is about to be posted, or somebody is about to get fired – creating an opening which you are then recommended for.
  2. A position is created for you when one doesn’t exist.

And really – this is all the ‘hidden job market’ is.

In the first situation, it is likely that the job will be posted in the not-too-distant future. During the informational interview, you want to get the person excited about the idea of suggesting you for the role to the hiring manager, and get your name on their desk. Remember, it isn’t very common that a hire is made when only one person has been interviewed for an open position. But in this case, you have a head start and can increase your chances of being one of the first people considered, making you the benchmark!

Now we have the second scenario. And here’s where things get fun.

Through informational interviews, you have valuable moments to share your professional brand. And yes, you do need a well-thought-out brand. You need to be able to convey who you are, the value you provide, and how you provide that value in a unique way. Demonstrate that you understand their problems, unique challenges, and where they fit within their industry, and show how you have faced those problems and came out on top. Forward thinking companies may recognize that even though a position doesn’t exist, you offer skills that they just can’t pass up on.

The beauty of such a hire, as Hill states: “If they fall in love with you and decide they want to create an opportunity around you, you have no competition – you don’t have to beat out anybody else to get this job!”

Informational Interview Questions You Should Ask

You’ll want to get them excited about recommending you for a role. So you need to ask questions that will show them you are genuinely interested in helping the company.

A great place to start is to ask them about what their work day is like – as people genuinely like to talk about what they do. Also ask about how people work together, what is the culture and work atmosphere like. Ask about senior leadership as well – a very important factor in determining job satisfaction. This should give you an idea if the company itself is the right type of place for you.

Then start to open up the conversation and find out what challenges exist on his or her level, on their manager’s level, on the division level, company-wide, and industry wide. You want to slowly guide them towards talking about what they really need at the company. This can include bandwidth issues, skills gaps, or lack of experience in a certain market. Then you can start to sell yourself as an answer to their problems.

While there might not always be an opportunity for you after each informational interview, hopefully, you have left a great impression on the person you met with, and they will remember you for future opportunities.  The worst thing that can happen is you have added a new and valuable networking connection.

About the Author

Greg Olsten is Ivy Exec's Sr. Content Manager, producing Online Classes, and Executive Intelligence articles.