Tips for a successful informational interview

March 17, 2010 at 3:44 am Leave a comment

A job hunter recently sent me this email: “People tell me I should set up informational interviews with companies I’m interested in. But I thought those were for people just starting out; as a mid-career person, should I be bothering with what is essentially a practice round?” The answer is definitely; informational interviews aren’t just for newbies anymore — they’re a great way to get on employers’ radar and job hunters of all experience levels should try it. For a hiring manager, an informational interview can be a low-pressure (and low-commitment) way of checking out a candidate. For a job seeker, it’s a way to showcase your skills and start a relationship that could lead to something down the road.

There’s one big caveat, though: Job hunters must keep their expectations low for informational interviews. If you try to turn it into an “official” interview and act as though you’re a candidate for an opening right now, you’re likely to turn off the hiring manager — and potentially slam shut that very door you hoped to open with this interview.

Here are some tips for making effective use of  informational interviews:

*Pursue such interviews with organizations where you might like to work not only now but in the future, perhaps even several years in the future. The contact may not lead you to anything right away, but if the hiring manager likes you and thinks you have potential, they could put in a good word for you for a future job. Also, they may take your resume with you when they head to another organization. (Managers move around, too.)

*Don’t be lax about preparation, just because it’s not a “real” interview. Do your research on the organization, have your questions ready and act professionally. Dress appropriately. Treat this seriously and the interviewer will as well. A potential bonus to informational interviews is that the recruiter or hiring manager may be more relaxed and chatty without an actual job on the table. You can use that to your advantage to form a relationship.

*Use the interview for its intended purpose — find out as much as you can about the organization, what they’re looking for in candidates and what kinds of jobs are likely to open up. Information is the key word in this situation. Not only is the recruiter gaining intel on you but you can further your knowledge about a company to help determine whether you want to go to the trouble of pursuing a job here. At the end of the conversation, specifically ask the interviewer what kind of positions he or she thinks you would be qualified for and what steps you should take to try to land such a position. Take notes. They may draw you a useful road map to getting a job there.

*Follow up. Stay in touch if they seem interested. This is how an informational interview will pay off. If you go and don’t get back to them, it was largely wasted time.

*Remember, though, to keep expectations low. If you arrange an informational interview and then act as though you were expecting to discuss a real opening, the interviewer likely won’t give you much time or attention. Don’t be pushy, arrogant or overly friendly, none of which you should do in a “real” interview. Relax, gain information and give some information about yourself, and the experience may pay big dividends in the future.

*Yet more good news of good D.C. journalists landing in new positions  — and two pieces of it to report! First, am so happy to note that Jeff Stein will be taking his “SpyTalk” column to The Washington Post and, starting on March 22. Jeff, part of the CQ “Gang of 45,” held several positions during his seven-year tenure at CQ including launching and editing CQ Homeland Security, acting as National Security editor and starting the very popular “SpyTalk” column. Jeff is an expert on intelligence and national security, and an all-around great and generous colleague; the Post is smart to snap him up.

*Vicki McGrane will be joining the Washington bureau of the Dow Jones News Service April 12, helping cover financial regulation. Vicki  has been doing a top-notch job of covering the financial reg overhaul legislation on the Hill for POLITICO.

Congratulations and much success in their new jobs to Jeff and to Vicki. Also, all this news of journalists landing well these past few weeks should give job hunters hope!

*The National Press Club in D.C. has a few upcoming events worth noting. First, next Tuesday, March 23, the NPC’s Professional Development Committee is holding a session on getting your work online. Job seekers should certainly consider attending:

EVENT: Get Yourself — and Your Work — Online: An Introduction (March 23)
No matter your medium, journalists today need a website to promote themselves and their work. Whether you’re looking for a job or to broaden your audience, join the National Press Club Professional Development Committee on Tuesday, March 23 from 6 pm to 8 pm to find out what you need to know about getting yourself online and what steps you need to take. This session, led by Multimedia Specialist Mark Young, is geared to print, broadcast and online journalists as well as any media persons interested in building an online showcase. We’ll go over costs, examples of sites (good and bad), possible software and online modules, as well as how to incorporate social media and blogs as part of any site.

Mark, currently an Online Editor at the State Department, previously oversaw the website of Media General’s Washington Bureau as well as several newspapers such as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; he also recently helped several working journalists develop websites.

This event, to be held in the NPC’s Lisagor Conference Room, is free for NPC members, $15 for nonmembers, but space is limited so you must reserve. For a seat, contact or call 202-662-7523. Sponsored by the Professional Development Committee at the NPC’s Eric Friedheim National Journalism Library. The National Press Club is located at 529 14th St. NW, 13th Floor, Washington, DC 20045.

*Though this next NPC workshop is for a limited audience, I wanted to note it and applaud the Press Club for doing some work to help journalists cope with the psychological aftermath of their coverage; very little attention is paid to this. So please pass along word of this event to those who may want to participate:

EVENT: Daylong Workshop for Journalists Who Covered the Haiti Earthquake (April 6)
A session for journalists who covered the earthquake and aftermath in Haiti will be conducted from 10 am to 5 pm, Tuesday, April 6, in the Bloomberg Classroom at the National Press Club’s Eric Friedheim National Journalism Library. There is no charge.

The Eric Friedheim National Journalism Library at the National Press Club is partnering with the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma to present a workshop for journalists who experienced the extraordinary challenges of covering the extremes of destruction and human suffering in Haiti. This closed-door, journalist-to-journalist discussion will offer a chance to reflect on covering Haiti, on issues which emerged in the field or at home, and lessons learned for covering future disasters. The conference will also include briefings and conversation on: trauma awareness for journalists; practical and ethical newsroom issues; and techniques and practical resources for resilience and peer trauma support. It will draw on the experiences of journalists in the aftermath of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 tsunami. The session is built on Dart Center programs developed by leading clinicians in collaboration with journalists and news managers.

The program will be led by Bruce Shapiro, Executive Director of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Space is limited, and reservations are required for both NPC members and nonmembers. RSVP at  202-662-7523 or The National Press Club is located at 529 14th St. NW, 13th Floor, Washington, DC 20045.

*As always, a few job leads to pass along:

*The American College of Radiology has an opening in Landsdowne, Va., for a managing editor:

The American College of Radiology, the leading professional association for radiologists, seeks a Managing Editor to join a dynamic, creative publications team to manage the editorial processes and plan, write, edit, and proofread content for 2 award-winning magazines, micro Web sites, and various other publications. Tech savvy a must.

Job Requirements

Seek candidate with strong editorial project management, planning, writing, editing, research, and proofreading skills, as well as previous experience as a managing editor; association editorial experience and knowledge of Sharepoint and content management systems are a plus. Must be able to craft copy into creative, informative, accurate articles, be deadline-driven, able to prioritize assignments, and be flexible in a fast-paced publishing environment. Will research and consult with association members about industry trends. Will work with staff and freelance writers and editors on content.

Qualified candidates will typically have a bachelor’s degree in communications, journalism, or related field; knowledge of AP Stylebook desired. Require minimum of 5 to 7 years of professional writing/editing/proofing experience in a publishing environment, including a minimum of 2 years as a managing editor. Proficient in Microsoft Office.

If you would like to put your experience and creativity to great use in an exciting professional and team-oriented environment, please apply online by clicking on the link below:

ACR offers competitive compensation and an exceptional benefits package including a defined contribution pension plan, 403B, paid vacation, paid personal days, paid holidays and sick days, all major insurances – life, health, dental, prescription, AD&D, short and long term disability, LTC, flexible spending, tuition reimbursement, physical fitness benefit, a business casual/people friendly work environment and more!

*Acquisition Solutions in Arlington is seeking a consultant in strategic communications:

Consultant – Strategic Communications
Acquisition Solutions – Arlington, VA
using your excellent communication and interpersonal… overall vision for communications programs and projects. Develop complete communications plans for the…
From Acquisition Solutions

*With a hat tip to, C-SPAN in D.C. has an opening for a production assistant for its Washington Journal live a.m. call-in show:

Publication or Company C-SPAN
Industry TV/Cable
Benefits 401K/403B, Dental, Health
Job Duration Full Time
Job Location Washington, DC USA
Job Requirements C-SPAN is seeking a Production Assistant to assist with the production of C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, the network’s daily live morning viewer call-in program. Duties include screening calls for the Washington Journal, creating on-air graphics and video clips, and preparing background research for hosts. Bachelor’s degree in Communications, Journalism or Political Science, demonstrated knowledge of and interest in current events and public affairs, ability to work a flexible schedule. EOE
About Our Company C-SPAN, the Cable Satellite Public Affairs Network, is located in Washington, DC, one block from the Capitol. The cable television industry created C-SPAN in 1979 to provide live, gavel-to-gavel coverage of the US House of Representatives. In 1986, C-SPAN2 was launched to provide corresponding coverage of the US Senate. C-SPAN3, launched in 1997, provides additional public affairs programming to digital TV customers. Since then, C-SPAN’s programming has broadened to include in-depth coverage of the federal government’s executive and judicial branches, national and international public affairs events and extensive coverage of campaigns and elections. In 1993, C-SPAN created as a comprehensive online resource for public affairs information, and in 1998 Book TV, devoted to exploring the world of nonfiction, was launched on C-SPAN2.

Providing unedited and balanced access to public affairs is still our main goal. The network offers viewers an opportunity to see public policy events as they happen, often in their entirety and without any commentary from us. Our philosophy is unique: we allow viewers to judge events for themselves and to critically assess current issues.

Today, C-SPAN is available in more than 99 million cable and satellite homes.

*And to wrap up today’s leads, I’ve been told about a good freelance opening to cover women’s issues at hearings on the Hill. This could be a good opportunity for someone hoping to gain some Hill experience and make some extra money while job hunting. Please contact me (here or at or on Facebook or LinkedIn) and I will connect you with the folks with the freelance opening.

Happy hunting! I will be traveling for a few days so my next post will be Monday, March 22. Meanwhile, please feel free to check out past posts in the handy month-by-month archive section, and also pass along ideas, events and leads that I can share with others!



Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Ways to help new (or recent) grads in this tough job market Managing “up” — while on the job and on the hunt

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