Job Search Tips #2 Informational Interviews

Published on
May 13, 2021
Time to read: 
A man and woman, sitting across a wooden office table from each other. They each have a cup in front of them. The woman is explaining something using her hands for emphasis. She also has a laptop in front of her.  I saw this picture and thought, he looks like a stereotypical veteran and is young enough to be a new grad. She looks like she knows what she's talking about.
My thanks to Ekaterina Bolovtsova for sharing this image of two people having a conversation over a cup of tea on

One of the biggest challenges when considering a career in an industry that is new to you, is finding out what it’s really like to work in that environment. This is just as true for veterans looking for a second career as it is for new grads looking for their first big job.

A great way to get a realistic job preview is to conduct what the human resources industry calls an informational interview. What’s an informational interview? In plain language, it’s what’s known as inviting someone for coffee. The thing is that most employers are too busy to go for coffee, and they’d rather not leave work to meet with people who are looking for jobs.

How do you get around that obstacle? Contact an employer that you’d like to work with and ask them if you could stop by with a cup of tea or coffee for a 15 to 20 minute conversation to talk to them about what it’s like to work in their industry.

There are a few ways you can figure out who would be open to this sort of conversation. You can ask people in your network if they know someone in the industry you’re interested in, or more specifically at the organization you think you might like to work at, and then ask your contact to introduce you, by email, phone, LinkedIn, it doesn’t have to be an in-person introduction.

Another way, is to research employers yourself (read Job Search Tips #1 blog) and then reach out with a targeted message, explaining why you’d like to chat, and offer to drop by with a caffeinated beverage of their choice in exchange for 15 to 20 minutes of their time.

Many people find the warm introduction more comfortable. The person you want to interview already has a trusting relationship with your mutual connection, and is likely to be open to talking with you.

The second type of connection can be just as effective, if you’re clear about why you want to meet. A great way to connect online is through the LinkedIn platform which over 19 million people in Canada use.

The rest of this post outlines how the conversation might go, and includes some prompts.

When we’re out of lock down the first contact by phone, email, LinkedIn message, would ask when would be a good time for you to drop by their work place with a caffeinated beverage of their choice for a 15 to 20 minute chat.

For now, let’s imaging that you reach out with a phone call. Start by asking if it's a good time for a short chat, 15 to 20 minutes. If they say no, ask when would be a good time to call back.

If they say yes, thank them and introduce yourself, how you got their number, you're about to become a veteran, a new grad, exploring potential careers, etc.

Phrases with the letters ROE before them are Rules of Engagement (ROE) for more you can download my short free e-book “Networking: Identifying and Connecting with Friendly Forces.”

ROE - Get to know the person and what they’re interested in - you already know that the person you’re contacting is in the industry that you want to learn more about, you could start by asking how they decided to get into this business, and what they most enjoy about their current role.

ROE - Tell them a little about you - you started this during your opening comments, tell them why you're interested in learning more about their industry, what you already know that makes this industry appealing to you, what skill sets and knowledge you hope would make you a good fit.

You could use the following types of phrases:
“I’m getting ready to transition to a new career”
“I’m starting to explore my options …”

Be prepared with a list of 4-5 questions written down before you call or meet in person.

The person you’re interviewing may answer some of your questions when they tell you why they got into the industry.

The last question you ask should be "Do you know someone else I should/can talk to about being in this industry?”

ROE - Things to avoid bringing up, unless they ask you about it first
Don't ask for a job!  If they offer, feel free to explore that opportunity.
Don't tell them too much personal information, they don't need to know everything about you. You’re there to learn about their industry, not to share all of your hopes and fears.

Don't under any circumstances bring a resume with you.

If they OFFER you a job
And you feel comfortable with the idea of working with them (they seem like a good person, their values seem to match yours, they shared good info)
THEN say something like, "I wasn't expecting this, I'd love to explore that further, can we set up a meeting to discuss this?" and "What information would you like from me for that meeting?" 

Not everyone uses resumes to hire!

OR you don't feel comfortable at all, and don't like the values they share while answering your questions
THEN say something along the lines of "Thank you, that's a generous offer. I'm still exploring my options, and not quite ready to work for someone outside of the military yet.” Or for new grads “….I’m still considering where I’m going to live.”
And end with “Can I get back to you?”

The reason that I recommend NOT bringing a resume with you, is to avoid putting you into job search mode, which sends off unconscious body tells, that the person you’re interviewing may very well perceive as needy and off-putting. You give off a completely different vibe if you’re asking someone about their job, and how they got started in that industry, then if you’re asking questions as part of a job interview.