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How to reach the hidden job market: Informational interviews and mentors

Informational Interview

Informational interviews and mentors can help you make connections in a company or industry.

So far, we’ve covered reaching the hidden job market by researching companies and jobs and writing inquiry letters. 

Now, we’re going to take a look at two more techniques: informational interviews and mentoring.

Informational Interviews

The informational interview is a short meeting with someone in a position of influence in a company or industry in which you ask questions that help you understand something valuable. What that is depends on your reasons for wanting the interview.

If you are at the beginning of your career or considering a career change, you may schedule informational interviews with people who are where you want to be. You might ask questions such as:

  • What type of education, training, or other preparation should I have for this position?
  • How long is the typical career in this field?
  • When this industry experiences ups and downs, how has it affected your company?
  • What advice do you have for someone who wants to have a job similar to yours in 10 years?

If you are mid-career or senior level and considering changing industries or companies but not careers, you might ask:

  • What is the long-term outlook for this industry?
  • If you were in my position, where would you be looking for a job?
  • What advice do you have for someone wanting to succeed in this industry?
  • Do you know of any companies that may be looking for someone like me?
  • Are there other associations or organizations you would suggest I join?
  • With my unique set of skills, can you imagine another type of position that might fit me?
  • Ask open-ended questions that allow expansion to give them room to think and express themselves.

There are several “rules” to remember about informational interviews:

  • They are not job interviews. You are not there to ask for a job. In fact, when you contact the person to arrange an informational interview, tell them you will not ask them for a job. Reiterate that when you begin your conversation. Then, keep your word!
  • Offer to keep the conversation to 30 minutes or less. The people you are asking to meet with are extremely busy, and their time is valuable. Respect their time by not wasting it.
  • Many people like to talk about themselves. When you ask questions, you can sometimes get more information when you ask in terms of their experience.
  • Many people like to talk about other people. Sometimes, it pays to ask about the competition.
  • Many people like to give advice. Ask for it.


One of the goals of an informational interview can be to find a career mentor. Informational interviews are generally conducted once with each person. You may have a number of informational interviews with a number of executives to gain a comprehensive picture of an industry, region, or even a company.

A mentor provides a number of conversations with the same person over a significant length of time – perhaps even your entire career – to gain in-depth assistance with furthering your career.

My colleague Don Orlando presented several ideas about having a career mentor at a recent Career Directors International meeting.

  • When searching for a mentor, you need to look in a place you never want to work so you can tell your mentor you will never ask him/her for a job. This may mean across the country.
  • Aim for the top. Find not only the senior person in a company, but if possible, a senior person in an industry. They know everyone.
  • Do your homework before contacting your mentor so that you are not asking questions that waste time.
  • Plan on a long-term relationship with this person and act accordingly.
  • Eventually, ask if they would be comfortable introducing you to other influential people in the industry.

If you’re struggling with your job search, contact me at Jeri@WorkwriteResumes.com to set up a time to talk about what’s going on – or perhaps more pointedly, what’s NOT going on. I can help you get to the source of the problem in a very short time so you can start spending your job search time much more productively.



Photo credit: Wayne MacPhail

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