Skip

Walking the line between job and informational interview
November 12, 2012 1:36 AM   Subscribe

What to do in the not-quite-an-informational-interview, not-quite-a-job-interview situation? I have one of these tomorrow and I'm confused about how to approach it. (OK, "terrified of failing" is a better way of putting it.)

I'm graduating, and out of the blue a colleague of a close friend of mine told him to let him know if I could use connections or experience. He then followed up to say he doesn't personally have any positions available, but could introduce me to his colleagues (without making it clear whether they have any positions available).

Tomorrow I'll be speaking with him for the first time and meeting with his colleagues. I don't want to be a job-grubber, but I'm not sure this is quite an "informational interview" situation either. I'm also kind of familiar with the answers to the questions they would give for informational interview-type questions anyway. I can think of questions to ask them about their work, but I'm not sure how far I can take that conversation as their knowledge of their field is obviously a lot deeper and more complex than mine--I couldn't carry an entire conversation with them on "talking shop" without it turning into a bunch of relatively simplistic questions on my part. (for what it's worth, they would not expect me to hold their depth of knowledge, but I also don't think they are planning to waste their time giving mini-lecture sessions on their work)

Originally I thought I would wing it: discuss opportunities the field, ask a few questions about their work, hopefully impress them. But I tried that with a phone jobish-informationalish-interview recently and completely blew the whole thing. The conversation was stilted and awkward and I could tell early in the person I was interviewing wanted to leave as soon as possible.

I do fine with straight-up job interviews. I can do a straight-up informational interview. This straddling thing is what's weird and I am not sure what the expectations are for the questions I'm should ask. Any suggestions for how to approach this? Because of the prior failure I'm having some anxiety about this.
posted by schroedinger to Work & Money (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Since you say you already know the answers to the questions you can ask, and you're not sure how far you can take the conversation on a deeper level in relation to the employment, why don't you just focus on being good company? A phone interview is way different than meeting up with people who may or may not have jobs for you. You aren't interviewing for a specific job here, you're just making connections. I'm not saying don't be professional, but I would just advise to be conversational and and as personable as possible, and if they bring the talk around to jobs, do your best.
posted by amodelcitizen at 2:53 AM on November 12, 2012


from lots of past expereince with this on BOTH sides of the equation, this type of getting to know you chat/networking is a fantastic opportunity to be yourself and simply display what you know appropriate to the type of questions they ask you. Obviously you want this to lead to a job, BUT you must not make the mistake of treating it like a job interview with the individual you are talking to.

the fact that a colleague is getting you this opportunity suggests to me that you have the personal attributes so this is more of an informal where exactly might you fit in; I would be quite relaxed in your shoes. (I know, easy to say)

View it simply as a golden LinkedIn, one of the super-dooper upgrades that even LinkedIn haven't designed yet.

The point being to present you and your skills. You're casting your net, the more honest you are, the greater the chance that you'll find something you won't hate.

First rule is Don't Bluff. If you are getting this nervous about it, I can guarantee you don't have natural bluffing skills. However if there is a potential you can become familiar with something in their line, don't be afraid of saying things like "No I haven't done the X of Y but it's more or less a natural extension of X which I have done so it doesn't phase me to get into it, I'd find it quite interesting" (translate that from my UK demure professional speak into your natural speech) according to the situation

Obviously do all the usual things about your appearance, but seriously just be yourself, that is something you can't flubb, give your genuine opinion on things. Initially it'll will be sociable so be guided by their cues, smile eye-contact etc.,

If you get on with them on a personal level they'll be a bit more willing to be honest with you about whether there are opportunities in real time or down the line. This is what you really need from this meeting. To know if you are wasting your time and they are just being nice, or if they really are taking your measure to see if you're a good fit for one of their jobs/projects.

best of luck
posted by Wilder at 3:12 AM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


I couldn't carry an entire conversation with them on "talking shop" without it turning into a bunch of relatively simplistic questions on my part.

The thing is... you're young. We expect this when talking to someone in your shoes. "What do you think is the single biggest challenge to the firm or to the field now?" "What do you see that's changed in the last five years?" "What was this field like when you started?" "What skills would you recommend I prioritize picking up?" There's a thousand decent, goofy-feeling questions you can ask; you never know when you'll hit a rich vein for conversation.

"Being good company" is great advice. People hire people they LIKE.

I would say "trying to impress them" is perhaps slightly wrong-headed, most likely. This is a byproduct, not a goal. Almost no one likes meeting with a kiddo who's out to impress. Impress them with recognizing you are just starting out, not with being a promoter. Impress them with being chill, being yourself, being enthusiastic and inquisitive and relaxed.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:04 AM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't want to be a job-grubber

That's a good thing, but don't swing so far the other way that you fail to directly (and at an appropriate point in the conversation) ask something like, "Do you think you will have any openings coming up?" and to ask about how you would hear about those (watch the website, send them an email in six months, or???).

I wouldn't downplay how much these conversations (at least in my limited experience) are about "fit." Not so much does this person have skills XYZ, but more are they "our kind of people." (Which is also how a lot of places magically keep hiring the same demographic -- white guys with ivy league degrees, say -- without actually intending to do so, but that's a different issue.)

I can think of questions to ask them about their work, but I'm not sure how far I can take that conversation as their knowledge of their field is obviously a lot deeper and more complex than mine--I couldn't carry an entire conversation with them on "talking shop" without it turning into a bunch of relatively simplistic questions on my part. (for what it's worth, they would not expect me to hold their depth of knowledge, but I also don't think they are planning to waste their time giving mini-lecture sessions on their work) I know it's easier said than done, but the advice to be relaxed and confident is good here for this reason.

You might be surprised how much people like talking about themselves. But I think the questions you might want to pivot towards are not just about the field in general, but their company in particular. What's it like to work there? What kinds of paths do people take before getting hired? How did the company handle the recession? Do you promote internally?
posted by Forktine at 6:09 AM on November 12, 2012


It seems to me like you need a better idea of what the situation is going to be like first of all. You say a close friend has set this up, so would it be appropriate and not too embarrassing for you to ask him exactly what he has in mind? Find out what you'll all be doing exactly, and how he's described you and the situation to his colleagues. Then hopefully you will know for sure if it is an informational interview, hanging out and informal networking, meeting explicitly for networking but not an informational interview, or whatever.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 7:50 AM on November 12, 2012


« Older How do I make windows view aud...   |  Seeking a Phone with Quality V... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.


Post