Employers and the Informational Interview

Published On: February 24, 2016 |

There are countless articles out there touting the benefits to job-seekers of conducting informational interviews to advance their career. For the job-seeker, informational interviews can be a great research tool to learn more about a profession, or a company in which they might be interested. They can build their networks. They might even get a lead on a job prospect. There are surely lots of potential benefits for the person seeking the interview, but employers, or the people giving the interview, might think – what’s in it for me?

Can I get 30 minutes of your time?

When one of those requests for an informational interview show up in your inbox asking for a half hour of your time in exchange for a freebie at the local Starbucks, your reaction is likely to be one of the following:

  • Gee, I really don’t have time for this.
  • If they are looking a job, they really should be talking to HR.
  • I’m not sure I have that much to offer?

So you duck and weave, make a plausible but cordial excuse, and do your best to avoid the inconvenience without being mean-spirited. At the end of the day you have successfully avoided the loss of some valuable time. However, in doing so, you (and your company) may have lost something considerably more valuable.

Early withdrawals – no penalty

I’ll begin by relating a personal story. A number of years back I ran a training department for a large retailer. I would often receive requests for informational interviews and usually accepted them, as it was my general feeling that in addition to being job seekers, all of those people were also potential customers. I wanted them to have a positive experience with any and all aspects of the company. Who knows? Maybe if they liked us we would sell a few more TV’s. So I would answer their questions, refer them to colleagues, collect a resume and in general, share whatever advice or information might be helpful, and wish them well.

Then the first dot.com boom hit. Like a lot of other businesses we started suffering high attrition as employees left for that bright shiny object that was an Internet career. As the unemployment rate in the Bay Area plummeted, it became exceedingly difficult to hire. The best candidates were rapidly lured away by high salaries and get-rich-quick visions of start-up company equity. Within two months I had lost eight of the 22 people in the department. As things turned out, I had little problem making up for the turnover because I kept the resumes of the folks that had impressed me in those informational interviews. When these candidates were contacted about potentially filling our open positions, they were highly receptive to our discussion. Even if not personally interested, they were more than willing to mine their contacts and to turn me on to another solid lead. They appreciated the help that my company and I had given them when they needed it, and now that small investment was paying dividends. Frankly, I had no idea at the time that these interviews would ever bring my company or me any tangible reward but as things turned out, I tapped that equity a lot sooner than I would have ever imagined.

Generosity has its rewards

Today, employers are again experiencing a highly challenging employment environment. To find an ideal fit for an open position, recruiters often invest huge amounts of time and money in pursuit of the unicorn passive job seeker, that mythical creature who has the perfect skill set and experience, but who is currently employed elsewhere. However what they find is that these passive candidates neither jump ship easily, nor do they come aboard cheaply. Why should they, after all, they didn’t court you, you courted them. They already have the proverbial bird in the hand and it’s a free market.

Contrast this with those individuals who have already had a positive experience with your company via an informational interview. That relatively small investment of time can yield a host of mission critical and cost-saving benefits for recruiting:

  • Builds your employer brand – An employer brand refers to the perceptions key stakeholders, and more specifically current and potential employees, have of your company. Employers can spend big bucks trying to build positive perceptions of their employer brand. Yet there is no better way to build your brand reputation than assisting a candidate when there is no immediate quid pro quo payback on the horizon. In the words of Samuel Johnson, ”The true measure of a person is how he treats someone who can do him or her no good”.
  • Builds a candidate pipeline – The informational interview you grant today adds to a pipeline of potential candidates either to satisfy future growth or possibly fill an opening without the high costs of direct recruiting.
  • Build an effective virtual recruiting network – The individuals you meet in your informational interviews begin their relationship with you in your debt. Six months later and those same folks can very well be employed in the who’s who of the tech world. Now when you call upon someone to help you source a candidate in his or her network, it’s no longer a cold call. They are already highly appreciative of your efforts on their behalf. They are far more likely to be motivated to help you solve your immediate staffing needs and, unlike when you may have initially met them, now they are hooked up in communities where your candidates live.
  • Pay it forward – It just might be that the informational interview you give today, may be a key connection for you in the future. Adam Grant of Wharton Business School in his excellent book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success speaks about the success of givers, individuals who give more than they get. He also talks about relying and reconnecting with our older, weaker or dormant ties. For givers, dormant ties have retained the element of established trust. It is more likely that when a giver reaches out for something, they get a more immediate and positive response, even from folks they haven’t connected with in ages.

By way of example, I am continuously pleased to see the career success of individuals with whom I’ve worked in the past. One informational interview from two decades ago ended up being a really talented fellow I later hired. These days he’s a VP of a Fortune 100 multinational corporation and when contacted, was more than willing to return the favor of an informational interview for my current clients seeking career advice. Like they say, what goes around comes around.

BAVC Media can help

If you, or your company, would like to learn more about managing an ongoing informational interview program, BAVC Media has the whole enchilada laid out so you can begin to invest in your human capital and we’ll handle all the details, scheduling and matchmaking. Contact Annie Tahtinen at annie@bavc.org for more information.